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Volunteer of the Month: December 2019

Betsy Purdum is being honored as the December Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Volunteer of the Month. Betsy has been serving children in our community for over fifteen years.

Schyler Brumm is our child advocate manager who works with the early childhood courts in Leon and Gadsden County. Schyler nominated Betsy Purdum as our Volunteer of the Month. Betsy is a familiar face in the program not only due to her many years of service but also for her participation with the Volunteer Advisory Committee (VAC).

The first time Betsy retired she was an adjunct professor of anthropology at Florida State University. During her years as a volunteer she was inspired to gain a further understanding of the field and pursued her master's degree in social work. Betsy then worked as the director of a grant program for families experiencing homelessness. Currently in her second retirement, Betsy enjoys taking care of her horses and volunteering with Guardian ad Litem.

What makes Betsy a standout for Schyler is her strong advocacy in every facet of the children's lives. "You can see the children have a connection to her in the courtroom and she is always there to guide them," said Schyler. She also mentioned that she felt that Betsy empowers children to advocate for themselves through her modeling and consistent presence in their lives. "Betsy impacts their lives and they impact her."

Betsy originally trained to be a volunteer child advocate in 2000 after her son had graduated from high school. She heard about Guardian ad Litem from her sister who was a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) in Louisiana. What keeps Betsy going is being part of a team, the fabulous training and the clear mission of advocating for the best interests of the children. Betsy truly believes in this program and discussed in detail how she thought it was on the most effective social policy programs. Volunteering with the program makes her feel like things get done for our children in the dependency system.

If there was an overarching theme during the interview with Betsy and Schyler it was that patience and long-term outcomes are what make this volunteer position so rewarding. In an earlier and particularly difficult case, the youth was having problems connecting and was unresponsive to Betsy. After some time, Betsy brought the youth around her Westie — a West Highland White Terrier dog — and the child started to open up to her. In another case, Betsy developed a long-term connection and the child wanted to keep in contact after the case closed. Betsy was present for the birth of her first child and Betsy was so pleased with the youth's success in life including receiving her master's degree and being employed.

Another one of her cases had the child's need for adoption published in a local newspaper. The child was successfully adopted and the adoptive parents even sought out their siblings and adopted them as well. Betsy ran into them years later and they thanked Betsy. For those struggling with a current case or just wanting to start out sometimes patience and time is needed to see the true long-term outcomes and it is truly rewarding.

If you are interested in becoming a Guardian ad Litem or know someone who could be, please call Maritza Waddle at 850-606-1213 or check out www.gal2.org.

New Events: 2020 Volunteer Training, Continuing Education and Swearing In Ceremony

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 added to our calendar.

2020 Volunteer Training

This year's pre-service training for new volunteers is offered in two varieties. Standard six-day sessions ("A") are conducted on three Tuesday and three Thursday evenings. Additional two-day sessions ("B") are conducted on two Saturdays.

Other Events

You can also browse and access events on our calendar grid.

Happy New Year!

Volunteer of the Month: November 2019

Circuit Director Deborah Moore with Volunteer Guardian ad Litem Allyne Smith, Volunteer of the Month for November 2019.
Photo: gal2.org

Allyne Smith is being honored as the first Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Volunteer of the Month. Allyne has been serving children in our community over the last year-and-a-half.

Guardian ad Litem's Volunteer of the Month is chosen by one of our twelve child advocate managers. Paige Nirenberg serves as the primary child advocate manager for Jefferson County. When asked about a volunteer that lately has set themselves apart from others, Paige was quick to nominate Allyne Smith.

Allyne currently works as a paralegal while also attending to her two-and-half-year-old, pro-bono family work, running her neighborhood association, and finishing up her bachelor's degree in legal studies. While most could not also add a volunteer role to that list, Allyne insists that Guardian ad Litem is the one thing she gets to do for herself.

Paige reports that she admires how Allyne is able to balance her life and the volunteer child advocate role while going above and beyond to help advocate for children. What really stands out to Paige currently is how Allyne is continuing to follow through with the parents of the child while multiple parties are pursuing a termination of parental rights. "Most volunteers would stop communication with the parents but Allyne has even gone to their new home," said Paige.

Allyne has always had an interest in volunteering. While she did want to volunteer as a Guardian ad Litem as a teenager, Allyne could not do so because of age restrictions, she found other ways to engage in her community. As a teenager, Allyne volunteered 300 hours with the Red Cross and in college she joined a co-ed service fraternity, Alpha Phi Omega. After several years of not volunteering due to working as a professional and the birth of her son, Allyne realized the need for herself to apply to Guardian ad Litem. Since that moment, Allyne has been serving as a volunteer child advocate for eight children in our community.

What keeps Allyne serving as a volunteer child advocate with her full plate you may ask? "I've always wanted to do it and it's rewarding as I thought it would be," Allyne answered. "This is what I do for me."

The most rewarding part of Allyne's role has been the children themselves. It's clear when you hear her speak about them, "their faces light up, they run and give you hugs," and she loves spending time with them. Allyne reports that most of the children in the dependency system just need a stable person who shows them love and consistency.

To those who are like Allyne and had Guardian ad Litem on their minds for years this is her message to you. "It is so much more rewarding than you ever think it's going to be. There's always going to be other kids, we need more volunteers. It's not much to do two hours a week. Most of what I do can fit anywhere in my schedule."

If you are interested in becoming a Guardian ad Litem or know someone who could be, please call Maritza Waddle at 850-606-1213 or check out www.gal2.org.

Holiday Gift Drive Reminder and Updates

The 2019 Guardian ad Litem Holiday Gift Drive event page has been updated to add ten sponsors. We thank A Touch of Class, Akerman LLP, Computer Tutors USA, Jason's Deli, Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes, Pennington, P.A., Saint John Paul II Catholic High School, Sharon Davis School of Dance/Adele Trahan-Kitchen, Tallahassee Region Antique Automobile Club of America and Uptown Café and Catering for their participation.

If you wish to participate in the drive, now is the time. Donation boxes are available until Wednesday, December 4 and the drop off event is scheduled for Thursday, December 5. Visit the event page for complete details. Thank you!

WFSU News: More Child Abuse and Neglect Means More Child Advocates Needed

WFSU Logo

Our program was recently featured in a story on WFSU News.

You can download an MP3 of the audio or read the transcript below. Thank you to WFSU for sharing our program with their audience.

More Child Abuse and Neglect Means More Child Advocates Needed
by Tom Flanigan

WFSU News
Friday, November 1, 2019

It seems more and more North Florida families are literally self-destructing.

"The cases and circumstances are more complex. The severity of the abuse and neglect seems to be at a higher level. There is considerable domestic violence and severe substance abuse (like) methamphetamine issues, so a lot of children are being severely neglected as a result of the parent or parents substance abuse."

That's Deborah Moore, Director of the Guardian ad Litem program for the Second Judicial Circuit.

"Starting about two years ago we felt a larger number, the most significant increase probably in the past year. This time last year, we were serving 150 children less than what we are now. So we are definitely at, if not over, 700 children for the Second Judicial Circuit, which covers 6 counties," she shared.

Each of those children is assigned an adult advocate. That person looks out for the best interests of the child as they are shunted through the legal system. And more cases means more advocates are needed so no child goes without.

"We were going along pretty well with the number of volunteer child advocates that we had to ensure that every child was assigned an advocate. But as those numbers increased, we've felt like we needed to put the gas pedal on a little more to recruit and ensure that we're bringing on as many volunteer child advocates as we need, no matter how many children are referred to us."

One such advocate is Sean Ruane. He became an advocate a few years ago.

"One of my neighbors was a foster parent," he remembered. "They had a number of children they were fostering and I could see the relationship they were building and how important it was to those children. Contrast that with the stories you hear day in and day out about the terrible things that are happening to children being neglected and abused. I've been blessed with a good job and a stable environment where I have spare time and how can I use that to help."

Ruane added being an advocate has been rewarding and fulfilling for him.

"I was very fortunate in that the first case that I worked with the young man was a teenager who was adopted and he's now attending college and doing pretty well. So it's very satisfying to see something like that. I know they're not always quite like that, but there's always an opportunity to make their lives better so I think every volunteer has some story where they've made lives better and therefore made THEIR life better."

At the same time, Ruane insisted the program's demands on his time haven't been a burden. Director Moore said all advocates assume their duties with all the tools they need to do the job.

"We want to make the training, which is critical to knowing what to do and how to do it, more convenient for individuals," she pointed out. "We've added Saturday and online training. There's a portion of the certification and training that is online, but we've added additional online so that will hopefully not be a barrier for anyone if they feel this is a good fit for them."

And Moore hoped being a Guardian ad Litem child advocate will be a good fit for more volunteers, especially men like Ruane and retirees, who bring a unique set of skills to the task. Information about the program is online.

"They can look at our local website: www.gal2.org. And then our statewide website is a great resource as well: www.guardianadlitem.org."

Holiday Gift Drive Updates and Staff Directory Update

Holiday Gift Drive Updates

The 2019 Guardian ad Litem Holiday Gift Drive event page has been updated with new donation locations. You can view all locations and hours of operation in the Drop Off Locations section.

We thank A Touch of Class, Jason's Deli and Uptown Café and Catering for their participation.

Staff Directory Update

Our staff directory on the Contact page has been updated to reflect recent personnel changes.

Please join us in welcoming Child Advocate Manager Daniela Echeverria, Senior Child's Best Interest Attorney Eric Emery and Assistant Child Advocate Manager Saffa Wilkes to our team. In addition, Nicole Blonsick has departed. We thank Nicole for her service and wish her the best with her future endeavors.

Finally, Maritza Waddle has changed positions to volunteer recruiter and Amy Parker-Martin's status as a contract attorney is now reflected.

Holiday Gift Drive, Staff Directory Update and Families In Need

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 added to our calendar.

Holiday Drive Printable Flyer

You can also browse and access events on our calendar grid.

Staff Directory Update

Our staff directory on the Contact page has been updated to reflect recent personnel changes.

Please join us in welcoming Intern Zoe Richmond to our team. In addition, Maritza Waddle and Erica Zamarron have departed. We thank Maritza and Erica for their service and wish them the best with their future endeavors. Finally, the title for Lillian Walker was updated.

Families In Need

The Families In Need request for toddler beds has been updated to "fulfilled" status. The program no longer accepts used beds. We thank all individuals and businesses for their past contributions.

Staff Directory Updates and Minor Housekeeping

Staff Directory Update

Our staff directory on the Contact page has been updated to reflect recent personnel changes.

Eric Emery, Taylor Tachell and Shanna-Kay Turner have departed. We thank Eric, Taylor and Shanna-Kay for their service and wish them the best with their future endeavors.

Minor Housekeeping

Several small updates were made to the Continuing Education page and resource center to remove out-of-date content.

Event Cancellations and Staff Directory Update

The following events have been cancelled and removed from our calendar.

Those still interested in the educational surrogate program can register for upcoming classes in May, September, October or November.

Staff Directory Update

Our staff directory on the Contact page has been updated to reflect recent personnel changes.

Please join us in welcoming Child Advocate Manager Melissa Moore-Josephs to our team. Additionally, two mobile numbers were added and two staffers' surnames were updated.