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: The Florida Bar News

Logo --- The Florida Bar

The December 2012 edition of the Florida Bar News features an article about Florida Guardian ad Litem Program Executive Director Alan Abramowitz's request to the Florida Legislature for an additional $3.9 million next fiscal year.

The article is presented below in case you missed it.

Thank you to the Florida Bar for featuring our program with their membership!

GAL program seeks an additional $3.9 million from the Legislature
By The Florida Bar News

Saturday, December 1, 2012
Florida Bar News

While Florida law dictates that courts appoint a guardian ad litem to every abused, abandoned, or neglected child, only 68 percent receive such an advocate.

The Florida Guardian ad Litem Program hopes to increase that figure to 75 percent within one year and to 100 percent within five years, said Alan F. Abramowitz, executive director of the GAL program.

With that goal in mind, the agency is asking for an additional $3.9 million in state funding for the 2013-4 fiscal year.

Abramowitz said with limited resources available, the program is forced to "triage" cases, providing GALs to those children deemed most in need.

"It's very difficult when we go to a group home to visit a child and see others who don't have a representative," Abramowitz said. "That's why we're fighting so hard to get additional funding."

The extra funds would support the program's "aggressive" recruitment efforts, Abramowitz said.

Those efforts, already underway, are part of an overhaul of the agency's structure, he said. Under the program's old model, paid staff managed large caseloads of about 45 dependent children, Abramowitz said. The new strategy expands the agency's use of volunteers. Rather than caseloads of children, paid staff would supervise about 38 volunteers each, who in turn represent about 75 children, he said.

In addition to serving more children, the new model allows the agency to provide higher quality and more intensive services to those children, Abramowitz said.

"You have one person focused on just one or two children," he said.

Abramowitz said children represented by volunteers return to foster care at a rate half that of children represented by staff with large caseloads. Children served by volunteers also tend to perform better in school, he added.

In 2012-13, GAL made the same request as this year and received a total of $32 million from the state, including a one-time increase of $1.8 million, he said.

The program is now asking the Legislature to continue appropriating the $1.8 million on an annual basis. The additional $2.1 million would provide salary increases for staff, which are appropriate for the jobs and functions they perform as managers of volunteers, Abramowitz said.

The agency has already begun a large recruitment effort.

In December 2007, about 55 percent of the program's children were represented by volunteers, Abramowitz said. Volunteers now represent 72 percent of children served by the agency, he said.

By the end of the year, Abramowitz added, the program should have about 9,000 volunteers.

"In 2007, we had 10 percent more money and 50 percent less volunteers," he said. "We're becoming more efficient."

Abramowitz encourages anyone interested in volunteering to visit the program's website at guardianadlitem.org.

"Attorneys do a great job," he said. "They have skills and training that allow them to think of those things that no one else is thinking about."

Copyright © 2012, The Florida Bar. All Rights Reserved.

In Print: Ad in The Florida Nurse

As part of the I Am for the Child public awareness campaign, the Statewide Guardian ad Litem Office has an advertisement in the June 2012 issue of The Florida Nurse, the official bulletin of the Florida Nurses Association.

You can see the advert below or download the entire issue.

Advertisement -- Photo of Woman Holding Picture of Female Child, Body Text, GAL Logo

I am for her.

Become a guardian ad litem volunteer today! There are over 9,500 children that do not have a voice in court. Many of these children face physical or psychological challenges and are on psychotropic medications. Who better to help them navigate through the system than a nurse! You will receive training and support to help you along the way. It is just a few hours a month that will change a child's life forever. Call Alan Abramowitz, Executive Director, at (866) 241-1425 or (850) 922-7213 or visit our website at www.GuardianadLitem.org for more information.

In Print: The Florida Bar News

Logo --- The Florida Bar

The May 2012 edition of the Florida Bar News features an article about the three pieces of good news recently enjoyed by the Florida Guardian ad Litem Program and its executive director, Alan Abramowitz.

The article is presented below in case you missed it. Thank you to the Florida Bar for featuring our program with their membership!

A triple treat of good news for the GALs
By Jan Pudlow

Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Florida Bar News

Alan Abramowitz, executive director of the Florida Guardian ad Litem Program, is one happy man for three big reasons.

First, Gov. Rick Scott approved the GAL's entire $32 million budget for fiscal year 2012-13, with a 6 percent increase of $1.8 million over last year's budget.

Secondly, the governor signed the law to allow GAL volunteers to transport children, viewed primarily as a safety issue so foster children may have private time with their GALs, which enhances rapport and communication.

And thirdly, the statewide GAL program won the 2012 Davis Productivity Eagle Award for "streamlining efficiencies to focus on commitment to children," and there will be an awards ceremony June 1 in Tallahassee.

Abramowitz said the news has made him "elated," and he used a lot of exclamation points in his memos to his staff when he told them the good news.

On the budget, Abramowitz wrote to his staff and volunteers on April 17: "I received a phone call earlier today from the Governor's Office letting me know that our entire budget, including the additional $1.8 million nonrecurring contract dollars, will be signed into law. The governor has been very supportive throughout this legislative session and continues to support our program. His office wanted me to let you know he supports the great work you do for children every day. I also want to thank each and every one of you for your commitment to give every child a voice!"

Abramowitz, who also chairs the Bar's Legal Needs of Children Committee, explained to the News: "The $1.8 million will primarily be used to recruit additional volunteers so more children can have representation and a volunteer child advocate. Just prior to session, we changed our request from requesting additional staff positions to contract dollars. We are extremely happy for the additional children that will have an advocate."

The goal is to expand representation to children in foster care from about 65 percent to 75 percent, he said, even though, by law, every foster child is supposed to have a GAL.

"We will be reaching out to the private sector to look for matching dollars for the $1.8 million. We are going to be reaching out to the faith community for recruiting services and look for matching dollars to show the Legislature that we maximized the dollars through our public-private partnerships," Abramowitz said.

"Also, we are looking to track increased representation with the dollars so at next session we can argue for making the dollars reoccurring."

In July, Abramowitz said he will be presenting the "Balanced Scorecard" to the Children's Cabinet, which charts outcomes by rating circuits based on specific issues the children brought up in "A Voice Heard." (see story in April 1 News.)

"The goal is to have accountability in expanding our volunteer base and meeting the children's needs," Abramowitz said. "The Department of Children and Families is working with us to collect data on performance outcomes we can influence. The children have set the path for our strategic plan."

Also, Gov. Scott signed the law to allow volunteers to transport children (SB 1960). (see story in April 1 News.)

"We are working with the Department of Highway Safety to get the driving records at no cost. We are developing guidelines for approval and standards," Abramowitz said.

The Eagle Award, from Prudential-Davis Productivity Awards and Florida TaxWatch, was awarded to the GAL program for being a state program that "costs the least and benefits the most."

"By utilizing over 16,000 volunteers over the past five years, committed staff working to support child advocacy, engaging nonprofits committed to supporting the program and the children, utilizing pro bono attorneys around the state, and in particular through the Legal Aid Society of the Orange County Bar Association, has saved the state millions of dollars," according to the nomination letter.

"We have established a private/public partnership securing money with our local nonprofits; established an online portal for volunteers resulting in cost savings; and established an online training for programs and pro bono attorneys in free continuing legal education credits (CLEs)."

"Of the 533 nominations, there were only 16 nominations that received the prestigious Eagle Award," Abramowitz wrote to his staff and volunteers. "And the Guardian ad Litem Program is one of them!"

Copyright © 2012, The Florida Bar. All Rights Reserved.

In Print: Our Volunteers in the News

Original Photo Credit: Dorothy Binger
Photo: Dorothy Binger

On Tuesday, March 27, 2012, the Tallahassee Democrat published a special article on Dorothy "Dot" Binger, longtime volunteer for the Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program as well as author of our Ask a Mentor periodical.

Binger has been honored as a 2012 Trailblazer by the Oasis Center for Women and Girls. Their annual recognition program celebrates "local women who have rewritten history by blazing trails." Binger will be celebrated along with other 2012 Trailblazers at the Women's History Month Community Luncheon on Thursday, March 29, 2012.

In addition to twenty-two years of volunteer service to our program and the children of our community, Binger has forty-five years of teaching experience, fought for salary equality at Pensacola Junior College in the 1950s, was the third employee hired at Tallahassee Community College and helped start Leon County's PACE Center for Girls.

The entire article is presented below in case you missed it. Congratulations to Dot and thank you for your years of dedicated service!

Dorothy Binger has knack for getting good things started
By Bethany L. Young

Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Tallahassee Democrat
News

As she speaks, Dorothy "Dot" Binger's voice embodies wisdom and a life that has been fully lived. It is a daunting task to choose where to begin when trying to characterize who she is and what she has accomplished.

Binger was there in 1994 at the inception of Leon County's PACE Center for Girls. At the time, there were only five PACE centers statewide; today there are 17.

Binger served on PACE's Board of Directors from the start, helped hire its first executive director and helped ascertain the building where Leon County's first PACE Center was housed. Binger also served on the PACE Center's State Board of Directors and said that she made certain that the changes she saw on a state level were reflected in Tallahassee.

Binger seems to have a knack for being places when things begin.

"I started at TCC (Tallahassee Community College) as their third employee, first business manager, and planned the business program," Binger said. "I taught accounting that first year."

Each year in March, The Oasis Center for Women and Girls recognizes local women who have rewritten history by blazing trails. Trailblazers are honored for the barriers they have crossed and glass ceilings they have shattered. Binger's dynamic accomplishments have made the road easier for other women to follow. She is a 2012 Trailblazer Honoree.

Along the years, Binger has taught at numerous educational institutions ranging from high schools, to universities, to community colleges. Binger has 45 years of teaching in her background.

Binger has a heart for volunteering and spent 40 years of her life volunteering for Envision Credit Union. Her volunteerism also includes 22 years of service to Guardian Ad Litem.

"I haven't done anything like start a big movement, but I've been involved in trying to make sure that women receive equal treatment," she said.

While employed at Pensacola Junior College in a time when women were mostly thought of as housewives, Binger served on a salaries committee, where the decision was made to base a person's salary on merit instead of gender, which was a great accomplishment in the mid-1950s.

Binger's leadership skills were nourished by supportive parents and a host of teachers that touched her life. Binger believes that raising a leader requires a critical combination of support from parents and educators.

In reference to the importance of Women's History Month and the purposeful, intentional recognition of women's achievements, "It probably will be a long time before we don't need to do this," Binger said. She continues, "We went through thousands of years where, in general, women were just not considered to have the abilities that men had to do the kinds of things that men did. The actual accomplishments of women for hundreds of years were not properly acknowledged and young women today, many of whom would take it for granted, are not properly appreciative of all the shoulders they stand on and what it took to get to this point."

Please join us in celebrating Dorothy "Dot" Binger and the other 2012 Trailblazers at the Women's History Month Community Luncheon on March 29 at 11:30 a.m. at the Lively Cafe at St. John's Church. You can register to attend online at www.theoasiscenter.net.

Binger leaves girls with these words: "Work hard to discover what your true nature is and what it is that you are good in and what it is that you are strong in. (Then) do it with honesty and integrity and the knowledge that you need to be serving others as well as yourself. You never know what small things you do that are totally significant for one other person..."

Written by Bethany L. Young for The Oasis Center for Women & Girls, a nonprofit that aims to "improve the lives of women and girls through celebration and support." Interview conducted by Sarah Sturges. www.theoasiscenter.net. You can contact Oasis through Haley Cutler, executive director, at 222-2747 or haley.oasis@comcast.net

Copyright © 2012, Tallahassee Democrat. All Rights Reserved.

In Print: The Florida Bar News

Logo --- The Florida Bar

The April 2012 edition of the Florida Bar News features three articles about the Florida Guardian ad Litem Program, our mission and the current statewide initiatives.

The first article, "A volunteer willing to say 'I am for the child'", introduces the program and reaches out to attorneys encouraging them to volunteer their time.

The second article, "A vehicle for better advocacy", discusses the passage of SB 1960, which permits guardian ad litem volunteers to transport children in the program.

The third article, "'A Voice Heard'", talks about the "A Voice Heard" 2012 Status Report and the valuable information and lessons it contains.

The articles are presented below in case you missed them. Thank you to the Florida Bar for featuring our program with their membership!

A volunteer willing to say 'I am for the child'
By The Florida Bar

Sunday, April 1, 2012
Florida Bar News

To join 8,000 volunteer guardians ad litem in Florida, you must be willing to open up your heart to abused and neglected children. You must agree that it's a human rights issue that that foster child's voice needs to be heard. After listening to that child, you must help the judge in dependency court understand what's in the child's best interest.

Even though it is statutorily mandated that every abused and neglected child have a guardian ad litem, the reality is that 10,000 out of more than 32,000 foster children still have no voice in Florida's courts.

"These children have lots of needs. The studies have shown you get better outcomes with children when you have an advocate," said Alan Abramowitz, executive director of the statewide GAL program.

"What we're seeing is a force out there throughout the state that's willing to step forward. We need to reach out to them. That's why the whole 'I Am for the Child' campaign is really there to allow people to do what in their heart they want to do, and that is to be there for a child who has no one."

Amy Goldin is one such GAL volunteer. She's a solo real estate law practitioner in Plantation and a mother of 17-year-old boy. She's also a guardian ad litem to a 17-year-old young woman with a 2-year-old child of her own. In her spare time, she is trying to raise money and recruit volunteers for the GAL program.

She views her mission as urgent.

"In Broward County alone, we have over 700 children who need a guardian ad litem," Goldin said. "It's very scary. We don't want to be one of those newspaper stories. I think it is a crisis."

Horrific stories of abused and neglected children, she said, "are down the street and in our neighborhoods."

When funding is tight for legal services, she said that's when the 501(c)(3)'s become even more important. She was in Tallahassee trying to raise $40,000 for one of 25 nonprofit charitable organizations where the money goes directly to the GAL program to help with training, volunteer recognition ceremonies, toys, summer camp fees, and anything else to help the children the GALs serve.

Besides searching for contributions of money, Goldin is looking for attorneys willing to volunteer as GALs.

"I worked at Carlton Fields in Tampa, so I know the pressure of hours," she said. "I go out and talk to attorneys in firms, and that's a big problem, the time constraint. Young people are eager to step in and help, but they feel the time pressure with billable hours. What I tell them is, 'Other than going to court—which is a time set—you can be very flexible with your time.'"

She visits her own GAL client after 5:30 on Fridays and on the weekends. Talking to her teachers, guidance counselors, and case workers is mostly done over the phone.

Goldin has found that judges try to be flexible.

"The judges always have listened to me and the program's advice. They want you to attend these hearings. If you say, 'I can't make it at 9 in the morning, because I have a conflict with another hearing,' they will try to work with you," Goldin said.

Employers do need to support the GAL leaving the office for those court hearings.

But, Goldin said: "I don't think people should be concerned this is going to be a second job, because it's not. And a lot of lawyers have specialty experience or backgrounds in immigration law or certain specific issues that we need help with. They may not want to be a GAL, but they are willing to help us out on specific cases. That's something we are interested in, as well."

"Everybody can do something, and there's something for everyone," Goldin said. "It's about the kids. It's about their human rights. They have a right to live. They have a right to prosper. They have a right to be hugged."

For more information, contact www.GuardianadLitem.org or call (866) 341-1425.

Copyright © 2012, The Florida Bar. All Rights Reserved.

A vehicle for better advocacy
By Jan Pudlow

Sunday, April 1, 2012
Florida Bar News

"My wife says she only learns what's going on with the kids when she's in the car. Otherwise they won't talk to her," Alan Abramowitz said with a laugh.

But as executive director of the Florida Guardian ad Litem Program, he considers allowing volunteers to transport kids in their cars a serious matter of safety for abused and neglected children.

Alan Abramowitz "A volunteer in California who works for us now said a child disclosed they were being raped in a foster home," Abramowitz said. "And she said, 'I never would have known that if I hadn't been alone with her in the car, and she trusted me.'

"My view is, safety is the primary reason. I think it protects kids. When they trust you, they will talk to you. And when they talk to you, they will disclose things. The second reason why is normalcy."

In a report dedicated to Sen. Nan Rich, D-Sunrise, one of the earliest supporters of the GAL program, Abramowitz said he agrees with recommendations to expand the Transportation Pilot Project of June 2011 to all circuits, because the pilot "has met the original goals intended of child safety, improved communications, a sense of normalcy, volunteer empowerment, and volunteer retention."

That follows the recommendations made by Jane Soltis, 2011 Child Advocate of the Year, who evaluated the pilot.

This year, legislation—SB 1960, in lines 268 to 272—recognizes the GAL Program's authority to transport children. However, no volunteer will ever be required or pressured to participate in transporting a child, and no judge can order it.

"I didn't want a situation where the volunteer didn't want to. They have to do it from their own hearts. You're not a lesser volunteer because you don't want to do it," Abramowitz said. "Is it in the best interest of the child? Yes."

He tells the story of a volunteer GAL in the Fifth Judicial Circuit who has an autistic child living in a group home who wasn't able to get out much.

"He's been taking the kid to a park a lot, four hours at a time. The kid is an older kid. His therapist says this kid is like a new kid," Abramowitz said.

"The volunteer sent me a video of the kid climbing a tree. It's very emotional to see what's happening out there, when these children have someone. And you need to transport them to be able to do these things."

Abramowitz is a GAL for a 17-year-old college student, who lives in a group home where the big entertainment offering is G-rated movies.

"I wanted him to be able to date. He's in a group home. It's a little difficult. That's all I thought about when I was 17," Abramowitz said.

The young man loves music, and hinted he would love to go to a concert.

Abramowitz brought that up at a staffing, and a 501(c)(3) paid for the tickets.

"If I'm a volunteer, I can go to them for help so the child can feel normal. Sometimes, it's a ticket to something; it could be a prom dress or membership in a club.

"We brought it up, and everyone was receptive to it. I think the advocacy for this child was getting everyone around the table and saying, 'Let's let him be a normal kid.' And everyone agreed."

So Abramowitz picked up his kid in his car, they grabbed lunch, and went to the concert at Tallahassee's civic center.

"He loved it," Abramowitz said. "I didn't understand one word during the concert because it was so loud, but I enjoyed watching him have his first concert experience. It really gave him a typical normal teenage experience that he will never forget."

Copyright © 2012, The Florida Bar. All Rights Reserved.

'A Voice Heard'
By Jan Pudlow

Sunday, April 1, 2012
Florida Bar News

Throwing a birthday party for a girl who's never had one before.

Cheering from the stands as a boy scores in a basketball game.

Laughing at a child's jokes.

Helping a teen get a driver's license.

Showing a kindergartner how to tie her shoelaces.

Taking a foster kid from a group home to a park, just to listen.

During his two decades of advocating for children, Alan Abramowitz, executive director of the Florida Guardian ad Litem Program, said he has learned that the most important skill in child advocacy is listening.

'I am for the child who is afraid to go home.' "The best person to fight for their child is the parent. Well, in these situations, there's no parent to do it. What makes a parent good? They care about the child. They do homework with the child. They help the child. They are role models for the child. And they listen to the child. We want guardians ad litem to do the same thing," Abramowitz said.

Clearly, the role of a guardian ad litem has expanded beyond the courtroom as an advocate for children in dependency court. As Abramowitz explained, in 1997, when the GAL program was under the court, the court took the position that GAL volunteers were prohibited from providing services and were focused on meeting the courts' needs.

"I'm interested in the child. And as we focus on the child, we'll become better advocates for the court," Abramowitz said. "I'm treating it not as a direct line to the court, but a better line to the child so we can do a better job."

As GAL volunteer Bonnie Marmor, who has a Ph.D. in strategic planning, writes in this year's status report: "The GAL volunteer often becomes a role model, a mentor, an educational surrogate, a friend, a confidant, and most important, a consistent caring person on whom the child(ren) can rely."

Marmor led a project in six circuits where GAL volunteers asked their clients—152 elementary, middle-school, high-school, and aged-out foster kids—questions about their GAL experiences, with the goals of helping volunteers gain a better understanding of the children they represent and allowing foster children to advise and guide the direction of the program.

"It makes me realize how important our corps of volunteers is. Although I may have my own cases, others have far more serious issues than I have," Marmor said. "There are volunteers who are so special, so dedicated, so committed to making sure that the right things are done for the right reason."

"A Voice Heard"—the simple, poignant title of the report—was supplied by former foster youth Brian Williams, recently accepted into the Fostering Achievement Fellowship Program at Tallahassee Community College.

Here's a sampling of those voices heard:

What is the most important thing I do to help you?

"You helped me…get new glasses when I couldn't see the board," answered one K-5 student.

"(You) help me understand and answer questions I have about why my dad and brother and mom are the way they are," answered a middle-school student.

"It's already been done…I am aging out with a life, a job, and a new family," answers a high-school student.

If there was one thing you could wish for today, what would it be?

"I already got my wish…to come home," an 11-year-old happily reported.

What other things would you like me to do for you?

"I want you to be able to see me forever, or at least until I get married," a 13-year-old told her GAL.

Why do you think I come to see you?

"To make sure I don't get hurt," a K-5 child told the GAL.

"Because you think I am a real neat kid—you tell me that a lot," another child said.

If you were a GAL, is there anything special you would do for the person you visit?

One 17-year-old said she'd "ensure that the kids got to keep their pets." When police first arrived at her home, her precious declawed Himalayan cat escaped through an open door and the girl was not allowed to look for the cat that she feared would not survive outside. After 10 months, the girl is still mourning the loss of her pet, said her GAL volunteer.

What would you have liked your GAL to do that he or she did not do?

"It would have been nice if my GAL could have transported me. If so, I wouldn't have missed my aunt's memorial service. I asked my GAL to take me that Sunday, but she said she would have liked to but she couldn't because she wasn't allowed to transport. It was the weekend and the group home ran on what they called a 'skeleton crew,' so I missed the memorial service. I just always knew that my GAL would have done things like that for me if she had been allowed to."

"Stay in my life instead of just disappearing," said a former foster youth, ages 18–23.

Copyright © 2012, The Florida Bar. All Rights Reserved.

In Print: Our Volunteers in the News

Logo --- TallyTIES

On Monday, March 26, 2012, the Tallahassee Democrat published an article about TallyTIES, the non-profit organization co-founded by volunteer guardian ad litem Matt Liebenhaut and current Child Advocates II, Inc. board president Brian Sealey.

Every year, TallyTIES adopts an organization and provides a uniquely customized approach to fundraising and volunteer recruitment. The Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program was proud to be the first organization TallyTIES adopted, as mentioned by Deborah Moore below.

The article is presented below in case you missed it. Congratulations to Brian and Matt on another great year of public service and support!

TallyTIES adopts one cause to help all year
By Sharon Kant-Rauch

Monday, March 26, 2012
Tallahassee Democrat
News

Writing a check feels ho-hum. And volunteering is hard to fit into a busy schedule.

But what if a whole group got together to pull its resources for one nonprofit a year?

That might make an impact.

That's the idea behind TallyTIES, a two-year organization that has adopted two agencies since it began. Last year members helped recruit new volunteers to the Guardian ad Litem program through six social mixers and raised more than $10,000 for the organization during a gala.

This year TallyTIES, which now has more than 100 members, adopted America's Second Harvest of the Big Bend and hopes to top last year's fundrasing efforts on Thursday during the Second Annual Celebrity Ties Auction & Gala at the Tallahassee Woman's Club.

The evening will include music, celebrity guest appearances, complimentary drinks and heavy hors d'oeuvres. Auction items will include ties signed by John Travolta and Robert DeNiro, a jersey signed by Michael Jordan and a guitar signed by Justin Bieber.

But more than the money raised at the gala, TallyTIES members have gotten to know the staff, board members and some of the clients of both nonprofits, causing a real "tie" to form between people on all sides.

"Sometimes things get so superficial handing out checks," said Brian Sealey, 29, a real estate agent who founded the organization with his old FSU roommate Matt Liebenhaut. "We're not touching anybody. I live and work in Tallahassee and I want to get to know Tallahassee better. We can go out there and look people in the eye and say, 'I care about you and want to make your life better.'"

Liebenhaut, 32, who started a new law firm about seven months ago, said the kind of human contact that takes place over an entire year forms a deep bond.

"I can now tell you all about Guardian ad Litem and Second Harvest from the inside out," he said. "We know the good they're trying to do and even two or three years down the road when we're not formally connected to them, we can be ambassadors for them because we know what they're all about."

Local artist Roberto Valdes contributed his share by donating a painting he made in honor of the Celebrity Ties auction.

The painting is covered with ties, with ones at the bottom more dense and painted in earth tone colors. But the ties become brighter near the middle and then whip off into the air at the top, representing what can happen if the community provides support to people in need.

To build excitement about the gala, the painting is being displayed all over town, starting at the Florida Commerce Credit Union on Tuesday and then moving to such places as The Aloft Hotel, Mockingbird Cafe, 1020 Art Gallery and Anthony's Grill.

"Instead of art being supported by the community, the community is being supported by art," Valdes said.

He said he loved the idea of TallyTIES which allowed "normal people to come together to do something individuals can't do by themselves in a substantial way."

Paul Clements, the development director at Second Harvest, said he's thrilled that TallyTIES has taken on the organization of the gala.

"We only have a staff of 18, which distributes 5.5 million tons of food a year, and they don't have time to put on an event of this scale," Clements said.

And if $10,000 is raised at this gala, that will represent 40,000 meals, Clements said.

This time of year - after the boon of the holidays - the shelves are often bare.

In the past two years, the food Second Harvest has gotten from the United States Department of Agriculture has also dropped by 30 percent. So money from the gala would allow them to buy food to replenish the shelves.

Deborah Moore, the director of the Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem program, also was delighted when Sealey and Leibenhaut decided her organization would be the first agency TallyTIES adopted. One of her biggest needs was more volunteers, who become advocates for abused and neglected children.

TallyTIES agreed to hold a social mixer every two months and invited everyone they knew to come. Moore could do the same.

At the mixer, Moore had a chance to explain the program and even had applications on hand. Some of the TallyTIES members also became guardian ad litem volunteers, including Sealey, who is now on the board.

Moore estimates recruitment went up about 25 percent as a result of the TallyTIES efforts.

"I don't know of another organization that takes on one program and wraps their arms around them for an entire year," she said. "That is something unique."

TallyTIES are now taking applications for their next nonprofit partner. To find out more, visit www.tallyties.org.

If you go:
What: 2012 Celebrity Ties Auction and Gala.
Where: The Woman's Club of Tallahassee, 1513 Cristobal Drive Los Robles.
When: 6 p.m. on Thursday.
Cost: $40; tickets available at www.tallyties.org.

To view a video of Brian Sealey and Roberto Valdes discussing Valdes' painting, visit www.tallahassee.com.

Copyright © 2012, Tallahassee Democrat. All Rights Reserved.

In Print: Mark Wilson and Alan Abramowitz

On Sunday, March 4, 2012, the Tallahassee Democrat published an editorial written by Statewide Guardian ad Litem Office Executive Director Alan Abramowitz and Florida Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Mark Wilson.

It discusses the Florida Chamber of Commerce's Six Pillars for Securing Florida's Future and highlights the Chamber's relationship with the Florida Guardian ad Litem Program.

The editorial is presented below in case you missed it.

When economic times are bad, children hurt
By Mark Wilson and Alan Abramowitz

Sunday, March 4, 2012
Tallahassee Democrat
Opinion/My Word


The Florida Chamber of Commerce and its six pillars for securing Florida's future serve as a framework for local, regional and state strategic planning.

Two pillars in particular, Quality of Life and Civic and Government Systems, serve as an organizing force that helps define an important relationship between the Florida Guardian ad Litem program's public-private partnership and the Florida Chamber.

The Quality of Life pillar recognizes that Florida's future depends on preserving a wide range of integrated elements that express the robustness of our culture and the positive perceptions of those things that make us healthy, safe, comfortable, secure and involved. While there is no doubt that Florida's economy is beginning to move in the right direction, the fact remains that many of Florida's families are struggling. When families struggle, children suffer. And that often leads to child abuse and neglect.

A Bureau of Labor Statistics study shows that for every 1-percent increase in unemployment there is a concomitant increase in confirmed child maltreatment reports one year later. The inability to pay rent, the frustration of not finding a job and the incapacity to pay for mental health treatment often lead to increased child neglect and abuse.

Guardian ad Litem program volunteers and staff serve to be the "best interest" voice for neglected or abused children. Thanks to GAL volunteers, children are less likely to re-enter foster care and more likely to be adopted, have more services provided to them and do better in school.

While government cannot successfully raise children, it can help foster public-private partnerships that provide parents and families the support to meet their children's needs. In part, that theory is at the core of the Florida Chamber's Civic and Government Systems pillar. It recognizes that civic and government structures play essential roles in delivering services, organizing markets and providing opportunities for the public to become engaged.

Florida's diverse nonprofit organizations help meet the needs of communities and provide essential services to family's every day in Florida. In fact, in 2009, approximately 3.3 million Florida volunteers contributed more than 500 million hours of service to local organizations — a multibillion-dollar savings to taxpayers.

The Florida Chamber recognizes the many contributions Florida's GAL program plays in our state's overall quality of life and in Florida's ability to link top-quality public programs with private sector contributions. Their success stories demonstrate that they are an indispensable intermediary between children and the court and between children and the Department of Children and Families.

To Florida GAL volunteers and Florida's business community — thank you for giving your time, talents and treasures to help improve the quality of life for children and families statewide.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Mark Wilson is president and CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce. Contact him at
mwilson@flchamber.com

Alan Abramowitz is executive director of the Florida Guardian ad Litem program. Contact him at
alan.abramowitz@gal.fl.gov

LEARN MORE
For more information about the Florida Chamber of Commerce go www.flchamber.com. For more information about Guardian ad Litem go to www.GuardianadLitem.org.

Copyright © 2012, Tallahassee Democrat. All Rights Reserved.

In Print: Tallahassee Democrat Editorial

On November 27, 2011, the Tallahassee Democrat published an editorial piece in support of the Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program.

In addition to describing our important mission, the article encourages people to help us meet our current volunteer recruitment goals and/or provide assistance to Child Advocates II, Inc., our non-profit support organization.

The editorial is presented below in case you missed it. Thank you to the Tallahassee Democrat!

Our Opinion: Worthwhile commitment

Sunday, November 27, 2011
Tallahassee Democrat
Opinion/Editorials


Sometimes reports about the plight of children in our communities are so overwhelming that we get lost searching for answers, leading to ineffectiveness. Those who take the extra step by getting involved truly deserve a salute from the rest of us.

For instance, 10 children now have families to call their own following an adoption ceremony last week at the Leon County Courthouse in honor of National Adoption Month. It was hosted by the Florida Department of Children and Families and the Children's Home Society. Similar programs are being held throughout the state this month, when a couple hundred children will celebrate going home with families of their own.

But according to DCF, 19,957 children are in foster care living with families or group homes. That indicates the number of children in need in our state.

Closer to home, there is an important opportunity for volunteers to represent children who need an advocate in their corner through the Second Judicial Circuit's Guardian ad Litem program. The agency is looking for at least 31 volunteers to step up to assist children living in Leon and five other surrounding counties.

In communities throughout Florida, volunteers with Guardian ad Litem work tirelessly behind the scenes to represent youth without voices. They bond with the child to whom they're assigned, visit the child's home, establish a relationship with teachers and help steer the child to community services that are available to meet that child's needs.

It's been said that a child working with a program volunteer is not likely to languish in the foster-care system, is more likely to find a safe home and is less likely to have to return to the child welfare system.

Because of its name, many may have the misconception that one must be an attorney or well-versed in family law to serve as a guardian ad litem. That is not the case. What the department needs are compassionate adults who are willing to commit a year to being the voice and advocate for a child in our community whose circumstances have come to the attention of the courts.

A critical need is to add more men to the ranks of volunteers, especially black and Hispanic men.

"Most of our guardians are not attorneys," said Deborah Moore, director of the program in this judicial district. "They come to this because they love children. We are happy to have that (legal) expertise, but a concern and passion for children is what we look for."

The 31 additional volunteers would go a long way toward helping address the needs of the 508 children in the system locally. Child Advocates II, a nonprofit organization, also is associated with the program. It is primarily charged with raising money that goes toward meeting the needs of the children represented, from clothing to money for school trips. It also is in need of volunteers.

In this season of giving, there are few gifts that match the gift of stepping up to represent the needs of a child.

YOU CAN HELP

For more information on how to become a Guardian ad Litem volunteer, go to www.gal2.org.

Copyright © 2011, Tallahassee Democrat. All Rights Reserved.

In Print: Our Program Transforms Lives

The Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program is featured on the front page of today's Tallahassee Democrat.

The column by staff writer Sharon Kant-Rauch features volunteer guardian ad litem Karima Anderson, Dewayne Knight—a recipient of Anderson's public service and advocacy—and Circuit Director Deborah Moore.

Purchase a copy of the Tallahassee Democrat today at your local retailer to read the article and see the photographs, as well as support the newspaper.

Guardian ad Litem Program transforms lives
By Sharon Kant-Rauch

Monday, November 21, 2011
Tallahassee Democrat
News/Local/Community Hands


More volunteers are being sought

When Dewayne Knight was 15, he was angry. He had been in foster care for six years and had watched numerous case workers come and go. His grades were failing. He skipped school all the time. If someone said the wrong thing, he'd explode.

So when he found out the court had appointed him a guardian ad litem — an advocate who would look out for his interests — he was hostile. He said he didn't want one.

But Karima Anderson was undeterred. She had wanted to be a guardian since she was 17. Now at 21 — the legal age to become a volunteer advocate — she was ready for her first case.

It didn't matter that Dewayne towered over her by a foot and hardly said a word when they first met. What she saw was a teddy bear, albeit a big one.

Fast forward three years.

Knight is 18 and talks up a storm. He's about to complete his GED and has plans to go to Tallahassee Community College. He just heard that he's been hired at a fast-food restaurant, a job he has pursued for months.

Sitting next to Anderson at the Guardian ad Litem office on Thomasville Road, Knight credits Anderson with sticking with him over the years.

"We have a good bond," he said, glancing over at her and breaking into an infectious grin. "I could always talk to her about what was going on. I know she'll never give up on me."

Anderson blushes and beams. She feels like a proud mama.

Time well spent

Deborah Moore, director of the Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program, hopes more people in the Big Bend will become a guardian.

Currently about 280 volunteers are part of the program, which includes Leon and five surrounding counties. But to serve the 508 children in the system, she needs at least 31 more volunteers.

Trainings will be held in December and January.

"At any given time, about 50 children do not have an advocate," Moore said. "Having 311 volunteers would put me in a better position to serve them all."

Most of the children in the program have been removed from their home because of abuse, neglect or abandonment. They can range in age from newborns to 19, but the average age is between 7 and 9, Moore said.

Guardians initially meet with the child and parents to gather information about the case. Guardians continue to meet with the child every month until the case is resolved. Most cases last about a year.

Guardians attend court hearings and, along with an attorney and volunteer supervisor, make recommendations to the judge that are in the best interests of the child. Issues might include increased visitation by the parents or determining if the child is ready to go home.

Guardians also act as liaisons with the schools, helping children to get tutoring or counseling. The child is free to call the guardian when needed. Moore said most guardians spend between four and six hours a month on a case.

Research has shown that this time is well spent.

According to the National CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate Association), children who have a guardian are half as likely to go into foster care as those who do not have an advocate. If they do go into foster care, they get out eight months earlier than those without a guardian.

Children with a guardian also are more likely to do better in school, and are less likely to be expelled or to have poor conduct.

Volunteer guardians appear to be the best people to be child advocates.

CASA reports show volunteers "spend significantly more time with the child than a paid guardian ad litem."

To become a guardian, a volunteer must fill out an application and then have an interview with Moore. If Moore feels the person is a good match for the program, the volunteer goes through a 30-hour training process.

Moore said when she pre-screens potential volunteers "98.9 percent" of them say they're interested in becoming a volunteer because they love children.

"That," Moore said, "is a wonderful foundation to build on."

Building a relationship

As Knight and Anderson sat in the Guardian ad Litem office, they reminisced about the past three years.

"Remember the first time I got you tutoring help?" Anderson asked.

Knight's hands immediately flew to cover his face as he shook his head from side to side.

"Oh my God," he said, laughing. "The first time she asked me, 'Do you want a tutor?' I said 'No!' "

What did he need a tutor for? He was skipping school more than he was attending.

Anderson persisted. She talked with the principal and assistant principal. One day after school, they insisted he stay on campus.

What was wrong? Was he in trouble?

That wasn't the case, both principals said. They just wanted him to hang around.

Then the tutor showed up.

Knight doesn't remember much about the first visit. But when the tutor came again, he avoided her. Finally on the third visit, he settled down.

Knight laughs about it now because just recently he asked for a tutor. He's been working on his GED at Lively Technical Center on Appleyard Drive and missed passing the math portion by a few points.

Next time around, he wants to pass it.

"I was shocked when he asked," Anderson said. "But I was also really proud."

Moore said guardians are often the most consistent adult in a child's life. Knight agrees. He said he always knew he could reach Anderson and that she'd call him back by the next day. A case worker might take days to return a call.

"When I call Miss Karima, I know she'll get on it," he said.

Anderson signed him up for anger-management classes and visited him regularly at the group home where he was living. Sometimes she'd help with something as little as making sure he got special soap because he has sensitive skin.

Last Christmas, through the Guardian ad Litem program, she gave him a book called "The Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story," a biography of a famous surgeon best known for separating a pair of Siamese twins in 1987.

"I do not read," Knight said. "But one night I started the first page and I decided, 'I'm going to read the entire book.'"

And he did.

Part of the reason was that Carson's background was similar to his. Carson's mother dropped out of school and got married when she was a teenager. Carson didn't do well in school and had a violent temper.

But eventually, with the help of his mother, his grades improved dramatically and he eventually got accepted to Yale University.

"He had the same lifestyle that I had," Knight said. "We were in the same category."

He said one day he hopes to become a counselor or an actor. Anderson tells him he can do it.

Ever since Anderson became Knight's guardian, she also has made a ritual of taking him out to dinner on his birthday. Recently, when he turned 18, she took him to the Red Lobster.

"That was the first time I had ever been there," he said.

He told her at dinner he wanted to help other kids in foster care.

"That floored me," she said. "But it was the greatest thing to hear. So rewarding."

Anderson admits she's a busy person. She's working on a master's degree in social work at Florida State University. She works full time at an Early Head Start program and does some promotional marketing on the side. But she finds the time to be an advocate.

"I feel this population of children is so important that I've never been able to back out," she said.

Today, even though Knight is an adult living with his sister, Anderson still keeps in touch.

They do this thing together, he said. He'll be talking about something and she'll break into a grin. That will make him smile. Then she smiles some more.

Their joy flip-flops back and forth.

How to Volunteer

To learn more about becoming a guardian ad litem, visit www.guardianadlitem2.org or call 606-1216. Applications are available online.

DECEMBER TRAINING

When: 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Dec. 3; 5:30-9 p.m. Dec. 5 and 7.

JANUARY TRAINING

When: 5:30-9 p.m. Jan. 18, 19, 23, 25, 26 and 30.

All guardians must be 21 years old, pass a criminal background check and complete the 30-hour training.

Community Hands is a Tallahassee Democrat initiative to help link needs in the community with the people who can provide resources and hands-on work. Projects must overseen by a nonprofit agency. To be considered, email Sharon Kant-Rauch at srauch@tallahassee.com or call her at 671-6539.

Copyright © 2011, Tallahassee Democrat. All Rights Reserved.

In Print: Deborah Moore

Our very own Circuit Director Deborah Moore was twice published in recent editions of the Tallahassee Democrat.

Her article entitled "To accomplish more good, Guardian ad Litem needs you" was featured in yesterday's Opinion section and her letter to the editor was published on October 17, 2011.

Both are presented below in case you missed them.

To accomplish more good, Guardian ad Litem needs you
By Deborah Moore

Monday, October 31, 2011
Tallahassee Democrat
Opinion/My Word


I am for the child. Will you be for the child, too?

The child I am for is special. She is the little girl who has already suffered in an abusive home, enters the foster care system and is placed in three or four different homes and schools within just a few months. He is the little boy who witnessed a terrible assault on one of his parents. They are the brother and sister whose mother has just been sentenced to prison and who have been split up and reside in different counties.

Thankfully, most people do not know these children. I do. As I write this, there are hundreds of them in Leon and the adjacent counties. I know them all.

These children are served by the Guardian ad Litem Program, which trains and supports volunteers to speak for and advocate for abused and neglected children. These volunteers are people like you and me who look out for the best interests of the child.

The foster care and child welfare system is full of compassionate lawyers, judges, social workers and foster families, but the intense need can strain the system, making it difficult to protect the rights of each child. What are these rights? To be safe. To be treated with dignity. To be loved. To have friends and live in a home with a real family so the child can thrive. Every child deserves a chance to flourish. A child cannot defend his or her rights, but a Guardian ad Litem volunteer can.

With the help of a Guardian ad Litem volunteer, children have better outcomes. Based on national studies, a child with a volunteer is half as likely to languish in the foster care system, and much more likely to find a safe and permanent home. A child with a volunteer is less likely to return to the child welfare system after going home. Protected and nourished while coming through a period of vulnerability and fear, the child can better achieve his or her potential. These former foster kids may become our future doctors, teachers and leaders.

Every day I see first-hand the transformative impact a Guardian ad Litem volunteer can have on a child. Just the other day, while at the grocery store, I ran into Dot Binger, a Guardian ad Litem volunteer for more than 20 years. With the enthusiasm of a new volunteer assigned to her first case, Dot shared an update about her Guardian ad Litem 17-year-old. After providing two years of advocacy, she saw him recently adopted by a wonderful couple. One person can effect change and make a life-long difference for a child, and Dot has done so. Dot is for a child. She is one of our everyday heroes.

Our goal is that every child in the foster care and child welfare system has a qualified Guardian ad Litem volunteer looking out for his or her best interests.

Currently, with the support of about 310 volunteers, we are serving about 530 children in Franklin, Gadsden, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty and Wakulla counties. To serve 100 percent of the children in our area, we need more volunteers. This is our challenge. It is achievable, but only if you or someone you know agrees to join our ranks and to stand up for the rights of a child.

We know what needs to be done. Doing it is the hard part.

Please visit the Guardian ad Litem Web site at http://www.gal2.org and learn how you can help. Then call me and say, "I am for the child."

LEARN MORE
To find out more about Guardian ad Litem, go to http://www.gal2.org.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Deborah Moore is circuit director for the Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program. Contact her at Deborah.Moore@gal.fl.gov

Copyright © 2011, Tallahassee Democrat. All Rights Reserved.

Make a difference; help Guardian ad Litem
By Deborah Moore

Monday, October 17, 2011
Tallahassee Democrat
Opinion/Letters to the Editor


Each year, Make a Difference Day is celebrated nationwide on the fourth Saturday of October. On Oct. 22, millions of Americans will become volunteers and support a program in their community.

In the Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program, which includes Leon, Gadsden, Wakulla, Jefferson, Franklin and Liberty counties, there are nearly 520 abused and neglected children whose cases are involved with the courts. Many of them, who are under 10 years of age, have been removed from their homes because of serious neglect.

Children involved with the court and child-welfare system are full of potential but, regrettably, the absence of a capable adult presence and safe and stable home threatens who they are and what they will become.

These children need a tenacious advocate to speak up for them. They need someone who can help protect their most fundamental human rights and overcome their circumstances.

This year, as we observe Make A Difference Day, I hope your readers will see this as the perfect time to support children in our community by becoming a volunteer with the Guardian ad Litem program.

DEBORAH MOORE
Circuit Director
Guardian ad Litem
Deborah.Moore@gal.fl.gov

Copyright © 2011, Tallahassee Democrat. All Rights Reserved.