The hub of information for the Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program, our blog contains posts with announcements, news and events, articles, periodicals and additions or updates to our website.

This page contains published posts from the August 2015 archive sorted chronologically with the newest at the top.

New Event and Guardian ad Litem Community News

New Event

We regularly host, sponsor and support a variety of events that provide community outreach, increase awareness of our program, help recruit new volunteers, raise funds and furnish training to our volunteer guardians ad litem. The following event was recently added to our calendar.

Paul Crawford and Wendy Crews Interview

Paul Crawford, Regional Director for the Third Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program, and volunteer guardian ad litem Wendy Crews were recently interviewed as guests on Perspective, a Florida Gateway College production that airs in the Lake City, Florida area. During the interview, Crawford and Crews discuss the purpose of and need for volunteer guardians ad litem.

You can watch this episode of Perspective on Florida Gateway College's YouTube channel. The episode's runtime is twenty-seven minutes, forty-four seconds.

Women's Council of Realtors Donates Suitcases

On Friday, August 28, 2015, Statewide Guardian ad Litem Program Executive Director Alan Abramowitz announced that the Florida Chapter of the Women's Council of Realtors collected 851 new suitcases and rolling bags to benefit children represented by the program.

The Women's Council of Realtors is a network of successful Realtors who advance women as professionals and leaders in business, the industry and the community that they serve. During their drive, each of the thirty-four Women's Council of Realtors chapters in Florida worked with the twenty programs like ours statewide to collect and donate bags. Their goal was 100 bags, but the successful campaign yielded a total of 851 bags — an increase of 751 percent!

"What started out as a small challenge in January turned into a big impact in August," said Pamela Banks, President of the Women's Council of Realtors Florida Chapter. "We are truly proud of the outpouring of support from our many members and their generosity. We look forward to a continued partnership with the Guardian ad Litem [Program]."

"We have so many people that want to make a difference in the lives of children," said Abramowitz in response to the generosity of this community supporter. "It is inspirational to see the Women's Council of Realtors Florida Chapter step up and be there for abused children, to meet their needs by ensuring they don't have to carry their belongings in a trash bag. Not only did they exceed their goal of giving, but some have since become volunteer guardians to advocate for children."

Thank you to the Women's Council of Realtors Florida Chapter for their support.

Pre-Service Training Program Page Completely Redeveloped

We have completely overhauled our Training page, detailing the three phase pre-service education program that every new volunteer guardian ad litem must complete in order to become certified.

For prospective volunteers learning about the program, the new version of the page provides greater detail about the curriculum's three phases and requirements. It also features links to videos, quizzes, handouts and other downloads for new volunteers going through training.

You can check out the updated page or jump directly to a section on it using the following links.

For more information about volunteering for the Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program, please visit the Prospective Volunteers page.

Six New Volunteers Sworn In As Guardians ad Litem

On Wednesday, August 19, 2015, six new volunteers sworn in as guardians ad litem at the Leon County Courthouse in Tallahassee, Florida.

You can view fourteen photographs from the ceremony in our Volunteers Sworn In 2015-08-19 album on Flickr.

We are very proud of and thankful for all of our volunteers and the work that they do. Congratulations and welcome to our newest volunteer guardians ad litem!

Six new volunteers sworn in as guardians ad litem at the Leon County Courthouse in Tallahassee, Florida on August 19, 2015

Photo: Christine Gornik

Guardian ad Litem School Supply Drive Another Success

Thanks to all of your generous contributions, the 2015 Guardian ad Litem School Supply Drive hosted by Farmers and Merchants Bank was a success.

This annual drive collects essentials such as notebooks, paper, pencils, erasers, crayons, backpacks and other items suitable for elementary, middle and high school students. The supplies are then given to program-represented children in need.

You can view photographs of the donations received below.

Donations collected during the 2015 Guardian ad Litem School Supply Drive hosted by Farmers and Merchants Bank in Tallahassee, Florida

Donations collected during the 2015 Guardian ad Litem School Supply Drive hosted by Farmers and Merchants Bank in Tallahassee, Florida

Donations collected during the 2015 Guardian ad Litem School Supply Drive hosted by Farmers and Merchants Bank in Tallahassee, Florida

Thank you to Farmers and Merchants Bank and everyone who participated in the drive.

In Print: A Place Of Their Own, The First Beginnings Project

Whitney Baptista in her room furnished thanks to the Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program First Beginnings project
Photo: Sara Blumenthal

On Friday, August 7, 2015, the Tallahassee Democrat published an article written by Volunteer Recruiter Sara Blumenthal about our program's First Beginnings project.

Many youth move into their first abode with no furniture and only an air mattress upon which to sleep. With no existing resources to provide household essentials like furniture, linens and kitchenware, First Beginnings provides youth in or aging out of foster care with everything they need for their first home.

The article is reproduced below in case you missed it. Thanks to the Democrat for sharing our program with their readers.

1st Beginnings helps foster youth with first place
by Sara Blumenthal

Friday, August 7, 2015
Tallahassee Democrat
Pages 1C–2C

Whitney Baptista smiles as she looks around her room. From the burgundy chairs to the bed covered with pillows, it is all hers, and as a foster youth, something she didn't think would happen. Thanks to the 1st Beginnings project, it did.

"It's me. I like to customize my room and I didn't think I would be able to. Stuff is expensive and like other foster youth, I don't really have support and can't afford it," says Baptista. "Being able to get this stuff means the world."

The 1st Beginning project, a project created and run by the Guardian ad Litem program and its nonprofit, Child Advocates II, ensures foster youth who are going out on their own are able furnish their first place and make it a home.

The Guardian ad Litem program advocates for abused and neglected children. Its volunteers and staff recognized a gap with its transitioning youth. Youth who are aging out of foster care or going into their own home do not have the resources to set themselves up in their own place.

"We want to make sure these kids are taken care of. Having to sleep on an air mattress with no other furniture or basic household items is not OK," says Guardian ad Litem Circuit Director Deborah Moore.

Moore, along with the program's Independent Living Committee, worked to create a program to fill the gap and ensure all youth like Baptista would have a place to get what they need for their first home.

"The 1st Beginnings project helps them with the essentials. It is a foundation. It makes their place somewhere where they can feel at home," says Guardian ad Litem child advocate and Independent Living Committee member LaSharonte Williams. "It helps them feel like a part of the community, that they are no longer outsiders."

With the help of StorQuest Self Storage, which donated a storage unit, the Guardian ad Litem program was able to create a sort of store. The program collects donations of new and like new furniture and new household items and stores them. Youth are then able to get what they need. Many times a volunteer will load a trailer and deliver it to the youth.

"It's thrilling. These youth are just amazed that they can have anything there for free. It's gratifying seeing their smiles and knowing you are making a child who has been through a lot happy," said Guardian ad Litem child advocate and Independent Living Committee member Stuart Zirin.

If the storage unit doesn't have what the youth needs, the Guardian program is able to purchase it through funds collected for the 1st Beginnings project.

As the project has grown in the last year, the program has been able to help more and more youth. From beds to sheets to vacuum cleaners to wall decorations, the Guardian program continues to meet the needs of its young adults.

"We want it new or like new. We want to get our youth off to a little better start. It gives them a sense of empowerment," said Guardian ad Litem child advocate and Independent Living Committee member Ken DeCerchio. "They haven't had a lot of choice in their life. Choice is important."

Baptista loves the chairs she was able to choose. Even the colors mean something to her.

"The burgundy represents the past and then on top is the brown and green embroidery, which represents the future and how far I can go. The chairs support me like the program where they came from," says Baptista.

Baptista, who has been in the child welfare system since she was two, says she is grateful not only for the furnishings, but the support of the Guardian program. She says it was her Guardian ad Litem advocate who taught her to drive, helped her move in and always checks up on her.

"Before I didn't have someone to go to and I didn't have faith in myself. They gave me faith. Showed me people do care. Showed me I am somebody that is worth it," says Baptista, who starts Tallahassee Community College in the fall and is part of Florida Youth Shine, a program that advocates for foster youth. "Sometimes foster youth can feel forgotten and not cared for. This project shows us people do care and think of us. All I can say is thank you."

The community has embraced the 1st Beginnings project. Akerman Law firm has supported the project during their last two annual days of giving. Another supporter is Killearn United Methodist Church's iServe group. The group created the Sweet Dreams project that provides beds to youths in the program.

"It was an easy choice. We want to help our community and what is more important than helping a child," said John Cousins, who heads up iServe.

Cousins enlisted the Living Harvest, which helps rehabilitate former incarcerated inmates. The Living Harvest Thrift store, which recently moved to its new location, is working with the program to help meet the needs of the transitioning youth. New mattresses are high on their list of needs.

"It all fits in. We want to rebuild lives," says Founder and Director Dale White. "Moving on to adulthood, it is important they start out right. They are literally starting out on their own with nothing, no resources. If we can help them out, help them get on their feet, it is something we want to do."

Moore hopes that with community support, the project will continue to help youth transition into adulthood and their first homes. For the youth, it is more than just a bed, dresser, sheets. It is the start of the next chapter of life, a chapter that hopefully will be filled with success and stability, something many have not had before.

"Like we say, it is about making that first place their first home," said Moore.

For more information, please visit www.gal2.org or call 850-606-1218.

Sara Blumenthal is the volunteer recruiter for the Guardian ad Litem program.

Newspaper clipping

Newspaper clipping

Newspaper clipping

New Continuing Education Events, Resource Library Item

New Events

We regularly host, sponsor and support a variety of events that provide community outreach, increase awareness of our program, help recruit new volunteers, raise funds and furnish training to our volunteer guardians ad litem. The following events were recently added to our calendar.

Continuing Education Library

One new library item has been added to our Continuing Education resource center.

  • Disabilities Training Conference 2015
    Videos of keynote speakers and workshop presentations along with downloadable materials from the Florida Guardian ad Litem Disabilities Training Conference held in May 2015.
    filed under Guardians ad Litem, Video and Website

Florida's Back To School Sales Tax Holiday Is Back

If you have not already heard, this year's sales tax holiday started on Friday, August 7, 2015 at 12:01 AM and runs until Sunday, August 16, 2015 at 11:59 PM.

During this period, no state sales tax or local option tax will be collected on the sales of clothing; footwear; certain accessories selling for $100 or less per item; certain school supplies selling for $15 or less per item; and on the first $750 of the sales price for computers and certain computer-related accessories when purchased for noncommercial home or personal use.

The Florida Department of Revenue created several documents with lists of eligible items and answers to frequently asked questions. You can download these documents below.

This sales tax holiday was created by the Florida Legislature during 2015 Special Session A. Contained within House Bill 33-A, it was passed by the legislature and then signed into law by the governor on Tuesday, June 16, 2015 as Chapter 2015-221, Section 28, Laws of Florida.

Every End Is A Beginning: Sunsetting 'The Guardian' Newsletter

The Guardian newsletter March–April 2012 issue front page
The Guardian, March–April 2012

The end of an era took place back in April 2013 when our program's newsletter, The Guardian, published its final traditional issue. Today we are announcing the official sunset of this publication.

Originally formatted for print, The Guardian's volunteer editor Tommye Hutto CAII Partner took great care to prepare an attractive newsletter for our volunteers and staff that highlighted program news, provided important updates and shared event photographs.

With Hutto's departure from the area and this blog having become the primary source of news and information for our program, The Guardian switched to an email format in August 2013.

During a brief volume run, staff curated existing blog posts for inclusion in the newsletter. The process required both staff and volunteer time, however, ultimately resulting in a lack of issues.

Now eighteen months since the last issue was published, it is time to retire The Guardian. Although nostalgically lamentable, this decision represents the best use of our limited resources.

So how exactly does someone get our news?

There are several existing ways to stay informed about our blog content. In addition, we are pleased to add a new method for your convenience — and in honor of The Guardian.

Here are all of the ways that you can get our news and updates.

  • gal2.org Updates    new
    Subscribe to gal2.org Updates to receive an email digest on Mondays at 8:00 AM when new blog content has been published during the previous week. From the subscription page, you can also access the email archive hosted by MailChimp. Please note that subscribers to the old email newsletter have been migrated to gal2.org Updates.

  • Twitter
    Follow us on Twitter @flguardian2 to get new blog post notifications and other content.

  • Facebook
    Like us on Facebook to get new blog post notifications and other content.

  • RSS Feed
    Subscribe to our RSS Feed in your favorite feed reader to receive new content when it is published. Full-text copies of blog posts are contained within the feed, although most formatting only works when the posts are viewed on the website.

These options are also available on the blog's main page. Should you have any questions about them, feel free to comment on this post or contact our office.

As for The Guardian's archive, it remains intact on the Newsletters page for historical reference. If you have a copy of an issue not available in our archive, please let us know so that we can add it.

In closing, we give our thanks to Tommye Hutto and every volunteer or staff member who worked on The Guardian during its run.

Update
2015-08-02: added note that subscribers to the old email newsletter have been migrated

In Print: Guardians Help Children Be Heard

On Wednesday, July 29, 2015, The Times of Apalachicola and Carrabelle published an article written by Volunteer Recruiter Sara Blumenthal about our program.

The article is presented below in case you missed it. Thank you to The Times for sharing our program with their readers.

Guardians Help Children Be Heard
by Sara Blumenthal

Wednesday, July 29, 2015
The Times

Everyone knows the adage "children should be seen and not heard." For me, that is farthest from the truth. Our children need to be heard. Being heard doesn't mean that they get what they want. It means they learn their voices matter and with time and guidance they can control their destiny.

It is the voices of our children, especially those in the child welfare, who need someone else to speak up for them, for their voices can be drowned out by the chaos around them.

For 35 years, the Guardian ad Litem program has ensured the voices of thousands of abused and neglected children are heard. These children's voices and interests can get lost in the fray. They are caught in a situation beyond their control.

Guardians ad Litem are ordinary people who have decided that they will stand up for these children. The Guardian volunteer is the child's strongest advocate and voice. They are the ones making sure they don't get lost, making sure each child knows they are not alone and they are heard.

Over 10,000 people throughout Florida have taken on the challenge of being a child's voice and advocate. They are all for the child. And because they are, Florida's children are better taken care of. Half of those who have a Guardian will not cycle back into the system. According to national CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) statistics, children with a Guardian are more likely not only to stay in school, but to excel in it. Ds turn into Bs. Most of all, our children are more likely to find a forever family.

I once met a young man. He saw I was part of the program and he hugged me. He said, "Thank you. Because of my Guardian I'm graduating college this month, something I never thought was in my future. My Guardian gave me one."

That is what the Guardian tries to do, give our children the future they deserve. It is not always easy. It takes heart, patience, time and dedication. It is dealing with sometimes the worse society has to offer. But it is worth it because we are able to help and care for the best part of society — our children. Every child is a gift; Guardians ensure every child feels like one.

The job is not done until every child is represented by a Guardian. I encourage anyone who wants to make a difference to volunteer with the program. Thousands of children still need your voice.

For more information, please visit www.gal2.org or call (850) 606-1213.

I am for the child. Join me.

New Continuing Education Event and Resource Library Item

New Event

We regularly host, sponsor and support a variety of events that provide community outreach, increase awareness of our program, help recruit new volunteers, raise funds and furnish training to our volunteer guardians ad litem. The following event was recently added to our calendar.

Continuing Education Library

One new library item has been added to our Continuing Education resource center.

  • Topical Currents 2015-07-20
    A radio interview of child welfare advocate Ashley Rhodes-Courter, author of two books about her experience entering the Florida foster care system at age three and shuttling between fourteen foster homes — some abusive — before adoption at age twelve.
    filed under Foster Care, Video and Website