On Tuesday, June 18 and Wednesday, June 19, 2013, volunteer guardian ad litem Janet "Jan" Watford represented herself and our program at the Jefferson Awards for Public Service gala in Washington, D.C.
She was bestowed this honor after being named Volunteer of the Year by the Tallahassee Democrat and was later also named Volunteer of the Year by the Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program.
The below report and photographs were provided by Watford, who wanted to share her experiences with us.
I have returned from Washington D.C. and have recuperated from all the events and sightseeing I did. I had the experience of a lifetime and have been so humbled by the people that I met.
Even though I did not win a prestigious award, I am still a Jefferson Award for Public Service winner in the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis category. All ninety recipients received a certificate to state what category they were recognized in; I will hang mine in my home.
How does one compete with a Nobel Prize winner and Holocaust survivor Professor Elie Weisel; a reformed Crips gang member out of Los Angeles that has saved hundreds of young men from joining gangs; or a dentist that has established over 3,000 volunteer organizations?
The competition is stiff and I was honored to be in the presence of such greatness. I met so many people that give freely of their time to help make our country a better place to live in. I was able to network with people that will help me with the type of volunteer work I do.
Each one of us — ninety people from all over the country — spoke about our work. I had people encourage me to continue my advocacy on behalf of abused and neglected children. I touched a chord with people that shared their own stories with me of being abused and neglected when they themselves were children. Several of us have exchanged e-mail addresses and I have already made contact since returning back to Tallahassee.
The day after I returned to Tallahassee, my foster child that recently aged out wanted to see me after I told him about meeting the former Crips gang leader. To some teenage boys, a gang member sounds exciting and the fact that I had talked with a notorious gang member peaked my former foster child's interests. I made my way immediately to his apartment and he had gathered three of his friends that are still in foster care; I knew two of them.
They were full of questions and I was able to answer them in such a way as to show them being a gang member is dangerous and there is a better way of life from the information I gained while talking with the former gang member, who told me that I had a good instinct on how to handle things with the young men in foster care. He will continue to advise me as I need his help.
We also talked about the Holocaust. One of the young men is starting college in the Fall at age seventeen and will be studying history. These four young men started talking about what they can do to make life better for their peers and educating themselves by getting a high school diploma and possibly attending college was awesome for me.
As I left the young men, my former foster child told them, "Ms. Jan needs a group hug."
"You know she's number one and she is my GAL," he said.
There is so much that I could tell you about what I learned while in Washington D.C. attending the Jefferson Awards ceremonies, including the effect the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and war memorials made on me, that I could be writing for several hours.
My advocating work is not done, there is much to be done and there are thousands of children that need someone to look out for their best interests. My labor of love for these children is indescribable.
Congratulations and thank you to Jan, whose hard work and dedication to children are an inspiration to everyone. To view additional photographs from the gala event, visit the official Jefferson Awards gallery.