This page contains all published In Print blog posts — containing newspaper articles, news stories and other media about us — sorted chronologically with the newest at the top.

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

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.

In Print: Guardian ad Litem Honors Dorothy Binger

On Thursday, June 25, 2015, the Tallahassee Democrat published an article written by Volunteer Recruiter Sara Blumenthal about our outstanding volunteer Dorothy "Dot" Binger.

Binger was recently presented with a lifetime achievement award at this year's annual Volunteer Appreciation Dinner and Reception.

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

Guardian ad Litem honors Dorothy Binger
by Sara Blumenthal

Thursday, June 25, 2015
Tallahassee Democrat
Chronicle Section

Recently the Guardian ad Litem program held its annual Volunteer Appreciation Event. The program and its nonprofit Child Advocates II recognized 350 local volunteer Guardians ad Litem and the astounding work they accomplished during the last year in advocating for abused and neglected children.

If you asked anyone around here for an example of a person who has changed their community for the better, they would tell you to just look at Ms. Dot.

Dorothy Binger, known far and wide as just Ms. Dot, lives and breathes civic service. And for over 25 years she has lived and breathed the Guardian ad Litem program. She has not only been the advocate for over 50 children and is currently advocating for 3 children, she heads up our circuit's volunteer advisory committee, mentors and is always willing to step in whenever the program needs her.

Ms. Dot, an educator and who was one of the first employees of Tallahassee Community College, Has more energy and enthusiasm than anyone I know. Many of times I ask how she does it. Hard work was something she learned early growing up as part of a large family on a farm in rural Florida. She puts that hard work to good use by providing exceptional advocacy for the children assigned to her.

The child welfare was not a new arena for her when she joined the program in 1989. She had already opened her home to two foster children in 1966 and had shown the teenage girls what home could be. They flourished and now have families of their own. She wants all families and children to thrive.

One particular case she was the advocate for seven siblings. She first tried to help the mother who had mental health issues. When it became clear she was not going to be able to care for her children, it was because of Ms. Dot that 6 of the children were able to be adopted by and aunt and stay together. The aunt attributes the children's successes in school and transitioning to Ms. Dot. She was an educational advocate before educational advocacy existed. She fought for these kids. When the youngest had medical issues and was placed two hours away, Ms. Dot would not be deterred. She would drive to visit her and even played Santa.

Most of Tallahassee knows Ms. Dot. Her contribution to the Tallahassee community is common knowledge. Besides being one of the founding members of the PACE program, she has been honored as a Trailblazer, one of Florida's Top Mentors and has had a TCC scholarship created in her honor for children who have been a part of the child welfare system.

For Ms. Dot, it isn't about the recognition. It is about the mission. It is about making sure every child has a voice. About making sure every child has someone in their corner. About making sure every child has a safe and permanent home where they thrive.

She is and always has been for the child.

It seems only fitting that we establish the Ms. Dot Binger Award for recognition of lifetime achievement in child advocacy as everyone here strives to be just like Ms. Dot.

I am honored to present our first ever Ms. Dot Binger Award to our incomparable Ms. Dot.

The Guardian ad Litem program has been serving Florida's children for 35 years. It gives a voice to abused and neglected children and ensures their best interest is heard and served. The Tallahassee office advocates for over 470 children. For more information, please visit www.gal2.org or call 606-1213.

In Print: WFSU News on Legislation and Budget

Florida Guardian ad Litem Program Executive Director Alan Abramowitz recently shared a story presented by WFSU News. The article is presented below in case you missed it.

Advocates Optimistic Scott Will Sign Bill Aimed At Helping Florida's Disabled Foster Kids
by Sascha Cordner

Thursday, May 28, 2015
WFSU News

More bills are now awaiting Governor Rick Scott's approval, including a measure aimed at helping kids aging out of foster care with developmental disabilities.

The Regis Little Act

Florida Guardian ad Litem Program Executive Director Alan Abramowitz says he's sure the governor is on board with signing the "The Regis Little Act to Protect Children with Special Needs."

"That is the bill that says children as they're about to turn eighteen in foster care that do not have the capacity to be on their own. There's now going to be a process in statute to ensure the right things are done so they can get a guardian or a guardian advocate prior to turning eighteen," said Abramowitz during a recent Florida children and youth cabinet meeting.

The bill is named after Regis Little, a young man with mental illness and developmental disabilities who was stabbed to death in Orlando, just after he became an adult in 2009. At eighteen, he left foster care and refused state assistance. Abramowitz says had this bill been law at the time, it would have saved his life. The governor has until June 10, 2015 to take action on the bill.

Hopes for Special Session

With the special session just around the corner, Abramowitz says he's hopeful his priorities will get into the budget.

"We're real hopeful," said Abramowitz. "We have over 10,000 volunteers. Over eighty-two percent of the children under court supervision have the Guardian ad Litem Program and this year it was a $4.5 million ask, and the Governor supports it wholeheartedly. The House has supported the money also."

Lawmakers never passed a state budget during this year's legislative session over an impasse between the House and Senate on healthcare funding. They'll be back in Tallahassee Monday to start the twenty-day special session.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.

In Print: Children and Their Champions Convene at the Capitol

WFSU

On Tuesday, April 14, 2015, WFSU News broadcast a story about Children's Week 2015 that included an interview with our Volunteer Recruiter Sara Blumenthal.

Blumenthal's portion of the segment, discussing the thirty-fifth anniversary of Florida's Guardian ad Litem Program and the importance of its mission, comes in the second half. Having heard Blumenthal in the piece, Florida Guardian ad Litem Program Executive Director Alan Abramowitz said that she "did great!"

A transcript of the piece is available below. You can also download an MP3 (1:53) of the audio.

Thank you to WFSU and Tom Flanigan for sharing our program with their listeners.

Children And Their Champions Convene At The Capitol
by Tom Flanigan

Tuesday, April 14, 2015
WFSU News

The yearly Children's Week at the Florida Capitol shifted into high gear on Tuesday. Literally hundreds of kids from all over the state jammed the courtyard between the old and new capitol buildings, the number of little people outside the halls of power significantly outnumbering the number of big people inside.

There was also a large number of children's advocacy grownups with booths in the courtyard. Like Jade Hatcher. She's education disabilities specialist with North Florida Child Development.

"We serve children ages zero to five in Madison, Wakulla, Liberty, Calhoun and Gulf counties," Hatcher said. "We provide comprehensive early child development services in all those five counties."

Occasionally, members of the legislature were seen wandering amongst the children and booths in the courtyard. Hatcher hoped what they were seeing and hearing would make an impression.

"Hopefully we can influence the legislators on how important early education is."

In some cases, though, education isn't enough. Sara Blumenthal is the volunteer recruiter for the Guardian Ad Litem program for Florida's Second Judicial Circuit.

"This is our thirty-fifth anniversary and for 35 years in the state of Florida we've been making sure that children who have been neglected or abused have voices in the court and voices in the community," Blumenthal explained. "And it's really important that we focus on the children who can't speak for themselves and don't really have someone who is going to speak out for them and need that extra advocate; that person who is going to make sure they have a safe and happy home."

Which, as nearly all child advocates readily attest, is the bare minimum that every kid needs and deserves.

In Print: CAII Cupcakes and Cookies for Kids

Logo: CAII Cupcakes and Cookies for Kids

On Wednesday, March 11, 2015, the Tallahassee Democrat published a "Taste Briefs" article that included a segment about our upcoming CAII Cupcakes and Cookies for Kids fundraiser.

With proceeds benefiting the Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program, CAII Cupcakes and Cookies for Kids is a friendly competition for amateur and professional bakers and an opportunity for the public to raise money for our program by sampling the various goods.

Our segment of the Tallahassee Democrat article is presented below in case you missed it. Thank you to the Democrat for sharing our program with their readers.

Child Advocates II is looking for bakers to make tasty treats
by Democrat staff

Wednesday, March 11, 2015
Tallahassee Democrat
Taste Briefs

Child Advocates II will host the Second Annual Cupcakes and Cookies to benefit the Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem program on April 17 at the Leon High School.

Cupcakes and Cookies is an annual local baking competition where professional, amateur and child bakers can compete in variety of categories, including kitchen sink cookies, 21+cupcakes, chocolate cookies, and fruitilicious cupcakes. For a small entry fee, anyone can submit their creations. The entries then will be judged to see what baked good reigns supreme.

The public can sample the delectable treats during the event. Tasting cards to sample the baked goods will be available to purchase both prior to the event and at the event. Each $20 tasting card has 10 stamps that can be redeemed for various samples of cupcakes and cookies. Tasting cards can be shared.

Child Advocates II is also looking for community sponsors for the events. There are different levels of sponsorship, which include complimentary entries and tasting cards.

All money raised will go to support the Guardian ad Litem program. The Guardian ad Litem program volunteers advocate for abused and neglected children. Through the support of its nonprofit Child Advocates II, the program is able to provide for the needs of the children and families its serves.

For more information on Child Advocates II or the Guardian ad Litem program and how you can help, please visit www.gal2.org or call 606-1213.

In Print: Photo from the CAII Wine Tasting for Charity Event

On Monday, January 12, 2015, the Tallahassee Democrat published a photograph from the CAII Wine Tasting for Charity fundraiser that took place on Wednesday, December 17, 2014.

Appearing on the second page of the second section, the photograph depicts event sponsor Computer Repair Doctor President Matt Hamm, Child Advocates II (CAII) Board President Brian Sealey and Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program Circuit Director Deborah Moore.

Hosted by our non-profit support organization CAII, the event at 101 Restaurant's Versailles Lounge raised over $700 for local abused, neglected and abandoned children in one evening.

You can view the original photograph as well as a picture of the newspaper below. To browse all fifty-three of our photographs from the event, visit the CAII Wine Tasting for Charity photo set.

Thank you to the Tallahassee Democrat for featuring CAII and our program with their readers.

Matt Hamm, Brian Sealey and Deborah Moore at the CAII Wine Tasting for Charity event at 101 Restaurant's Versailles Lounge on December 17, 2014 in Tallahassee, Florida

Photo of the aformentioned photograph published in the print newspaper

In Print: CAII Wine Tasting for Charity

On Sunday, December 7, 2014, an article written by Child Advocates II, Inc. (CAII) board member Marianne A. Trussell was published in the Chronicle edition of the Tallahassee Democrat.

Advertising this Wednesday's CAII Wine Tasting for Charity fundraiser at 101 Restaurant's Versailles Lounge, the article also provides an overview of our program and the mission of CAII.

The Tallahassee Democrat article is presented below in case you missed it. Thank you to Marianne Trussell for sharing our program with the public.

Print flyer for CAII Wine Tasting for Charity

Wine Tasting for Charity Event Hosted by Child Advocates II and 101 Restaurant
to be Held Dec. 17

by Marianne A. Trussell

Sunday, December 7, 2014
Tallahassee Democrat
Chronicle Edition

On Wednesday, December 17, Child Advocates II, Inc. (CAII) and 101 Restaurant will host a Wine Tasting for Charity event at the Versailles Lounge of 101 Restaurant in Kleman Plaza, from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. to raise funds for the Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program (GAL Program).

CAII is a charitable 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization founded to support the GAL Program. Through fundraising, public outreach, and volunteer support, CAII works closely with the Guardian ad Litem Program to help provide for the needs of abused and neglected children in Gadsden, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty, and Wakulla County.

Since its inception in 1988, CAII has conducted numerous fundraising and marketing events, volunteer recruitment programs, membership drives, and special events, and collected donations to help secure the basic needs of these children.

The cost for sampling an assortment of delicious wines and tasty hors d'oeuvres is $25; general admission is $15. Also available are two levels of sponsorships which will not only help children in need, but promote your business. The platinum level is available for $250 and the titanium level is available for $500.

All sponsors' logos will be placed on lounge table tents and on the CAII website and will be mentioned during any radio and television promotional opportunities.

Titanium level sponsors will also receive special recognition at the event during the keynote presentation. Payment through PayPal is encouraged; cash and check admission will be accepted at the event. Please visit https://gal2.org/events/2014-12-17-wine/ for additional details and to access PayPal.

Your participation and support are appreciated. Invite your friends — everyone is welcome. This pre-holiday event is a great way to express our gratitude for what we have by helping the youngest members of our community who are less fortunate. Alcoholic beverages are for those 21 years and up. Remember to drink responsibly.

In Print: Tallahassee Board of Realtors Blog

On Friday, August 1, 2014, an article written by Brian Sealey, Child Advocates II, Inc. (CAII) Board President, was published on the Tallahassee Board of Realtors blog. Sealey's piece describes the role and mission of our program, how CAII provides support and what people can do to help.

The article is part of a month-long effort by the Tallahassee Board of Realtors to highlight the Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program with their members. As Sealey is a local realtor, he was the perfect person to introduce the world of guardians ad litem to the real estate community.

Thank you to Brian Sealey and the Tallahassee Board of Realtors for providing this public outreach.

Sealey's article is presented below in case you missed it.

Volunteer Spotlight: Guardian ad Litem
by Brian Sealey

Friday, August 1, 2014
Tallahassee Board of Realtors Blog

"Children are the greatest gift God will give… their souls are the heaviest responsibility He will place in your hands."

— Lisa Wingate

Children in the foster care system are a demographic largely overlooked and forgotten. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, an estimated 400,000 children are in the foster care system during a fiscal year. When it is reported that a child's home is no longer safe, a judge may appoint a committed volunteer to help them. That volunteer is called a court appointed special advocate, or guardian ad litem (GAL).

The guardian ad litem volunteers are screened, highly trained and sworn into service by a judge. These volunteers advocate for a child's best interests in the child protection system. Working with the Florida Department of Children and Families and the court, GAL volunteers save not only taxpayer's money (fourth year in a row recipient of the Florida Tax Watch Prudential Davis Productivity Award), but also children's futures by helping children find safe, permanent homes as soon as possible.

As an advocate for abused families and chair of its 501(c)(3) Child Advocates II (CAII), I am firmly and humbly dedicated to the powerful mission of this organization — the mission to support and promote court-appointed volunteer advocacy so that every abused and neglected child can be safe from harm, establish permanency and have the opportunity to thrive. Led by Circuit Director Deborah Moore, the local Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program has been taking a stand for abused and neglected children involved in the juvenile and domestic relations courts.

Our vision is that we live in communities where every abused and neglected child removed from their home has a trained GAL volunteer until they secure a safe and permanent one. We seek to ensure children don't get lost in an overburdened legal, social and community service system, or become forgotten in a foster home. Most of these children come through our doorways hurt, scared and abandoned. A few even find their way to us due to the plight of poverty and homelessness. For many abused and neglected children, their GAL volunteer will be the one and only constant adult presence in their life.

The opportunity for these children to not just survive but thrive has always been my ambition. In 2014, CAII in collaboration with the Guardian ad Litem Program launched two initiatives: First Beginnings and Beyond the Basics. Many youth move into their first home with no furniture and only an air mattress upon which to sleep. Often there is no family nor existing resources to provide household essentials like furniture, linens and kitchenware; First Beginnings provides youth that are aging out of foster care with everything they need for their first home. Beyond the Basics is built on the belief that a school experience is beyond just paper, pens and book bags. It was created to provide guardian ad litem children the ability to experience a normal and balanced education experience through financial and in-kind donations from individuals and companies throughout the community. With Beyond the Basics, children can participate in educational camps, sports and academic trips for which many of our kids qualify but couldn't attend due to financial limitations.

How can you help?

First and most importantly, maintain an awareness of child abuse and neglect as a growing problem in our communities. Speak with your neighbors, colleagues and community organizations about the Guardian ad Litem Program, its mission and work.

Consider becoming a volunteer advocate for neglected and abused children. You will receive adequate training. Once certified, you will spend a few hours each month and you'll have a professional supervisor to guide you along the way.

Get involved with our local Child Advocates II non-profit. Child Advocates II, Inc. (CAII) is a charitable, 501(c)(3) not-for-profit, all-volunteer organization founded to support the GAL program. Through fundraising, CAII supports the Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program in providing for the needs of abused and neglected children in Leon, Gadsden, Wakulla, Jefferson and Liberty counties. Established in 1988, CAII conducts fundraising and marketing activities to provide the needs of children by securing basic necessities such as beds, baby supplies and clothing, which would not have been available with state agency support alone.

We have hundreds of dedicated GALs — men and women encompassing all age groups and backgrounds. They work full-time, part-time, are retired, are students. Some GAL volunteers have only one case child; others opt to advocate for more than one or a group of siblings. Because of the unique nature of this advocacy work and the personal connection to a child, many GAL volunteers find that their service is the experience of a lifetime.

I am a Voice for the Child… will you join me?

Brian Sealey
Keller Williams Town and Country Realty

Copyright © 2014, Tallahassee Board of REALTORS®. All rights reserved.