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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.

New Event: Training Refresher Course 2

We regularly host a variety of events to provide community outreach, raise awareness of our program, recruit new volunteers, fund raise and furnish training to our volunteer guardians ad litem. The following event has been recently added to our calendar.

Training Refresher Course 2
The Training Refresher Course continuing education series, sponsored by the Volunteer Advisory Committee, provides an opportunity for current volunteer guardians ad litem to review and refresh their knowledge and skills. Participants will be awarded two and a half (2.5) hours of in-service continuing education credit.

New Event: Volunteer Recruitment Coffee

We regularly host a variety of events to provide community outreach, raise awareness of our program, recruit new volunteers, fund raise and furnish training to our volunteer guardians ad litem. The following event has been recently added to our calendar.

Volunteer Recruitment Coffee
Have your questions answered, talk to current volunteers and learn about our program at our monthly Volunteer Recruitment Coffee. Members of our Volunteer Recruitment Committee will be on hand to discuss the rewards of becoming a guardian ad litem and guide you through the application process.

CORRECTION 2012-03-20: the Volunteer Recruitment Coffee on April 7 will be from 9 to 11 AM, not until noon as previously stated.

Updated Event: Volunteer Training F

We regularly host a variety of events to provide community outreach, raise awareness of our program, recruit new volunteers, fund raise and furnish training to our volunteer guardians ad litem. The following events have been recently added to our calendar.

We had previously announced that Volunteer Training F was canceled and would not be rescheduled. It will now take place as a three-day session including one Saturday.

Volunteer guardians ad litem are required to complete thirty hours of pre-service training in order to become certified and undergo regular recertification. The training curriculum includes classroom learning, reading, court observation and practice activities.

Check out the event flyer and download a printable flyer for more information.

GAL Program Receives Davis Productivity Eagle Award

Logo --- Davis Productivity Awards

The Florida Guardian ad Litem Program, its staff, local circuits and not-for-profits, community supporters and, of course, the over 8,000 guardian ad litem volunteers statewide have won a most prestigious award.

Presented annually since 1989, the Davis Productivity Awards program acknowledges and rewards state employees and work units "whose work significantly and measurably increases productivity and promotes innovation to improve the delivery of state services and save money for Florida taxpayers and businesses."

The program was nominated for "Streamlining Efficiencies to Focus on Commitment to Children" in the "Exemplary State" type classification and received one of only sixteen "Eagle" category awards this year. A total of 498 individuals representing the program were nominated, 202 more than the next largest nominee group. The nominations and subsequent award were based on the fact that in state government, the Florida Guardian ad Litem Program costs the least and benefits the most.

"Thank you to our staff and volunteers of this great program," says Executive Director Alan Abramowitz. "Without you, this would not be possible!"

Millions of dollars have been saved since the inception of the program in 1980. By utilizing over 16,000 volunteers in the past five years alone, hiring a committed staff of child advocates, engaging the non-profits supporting their local circuit's program, reaching out to businesses in the community, and using pro bono attorneys across the state—and in particular through the Legal Aid Society of the Orange County Bar Association—the program has saved taxpayers' dollars while working to accomplish a great need.

Additional efforts which have resulted in significant savings to the state include the establishment of a private/public partnership securing money with the local not-for-profits, the development of an online portal for volunteers, and the creation of an online pro bono attorney training program for which attorneys qualify for continuing legal education (CLE) credit hours.

The 2012 Prudential – Davis Productivity Awards received 533 nominations in five categories for "innovations and productivity improvements worth $509 million in cost savings, cost avoidances and increased revenue for state government." Within those nominations, a total of 4,163 individuals were recognized for their contributions.

The Davis Productivity Awards program is a public-private initiative chaired by the Lieutenant Governor, currently Jennifer Carroll, and sponsored by Prudential Financial, Inc., Florida TaxWatch, the Florida Council of 100 and the State of Florida. The awards were originated by J.E. Davis and A.D. Davis, the late co-founders of Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc., and Florida TaxWatch.

Award presentations will take place statewide in June 2012. The Florida Guardian ad Litem Program will be recognized and receive this incredible award at a ceremony scheduled on Friday, June 1, 2012 in Tallahassee, Florida.

Congratulations to everyone involved with the program and thank you to everyone who made this honor possible!

Abramowitz: 2012 Legislative Update

On Friday, March 16, 2012, Alan Abramowitz, executive director of the Statewide Guardian ad Litem Office provided a legislative update to guardian ad litem staff, volunteers and supporters.

In addition to discussing the impact to the program's budget, Abramowitz also reports that SB 1960—which permits, among other things, guardian ad litem volunteers to transport children in the program—received bipartisan and unanimous support in the House and Senate.

You can read the text of his update below and download the Florida Guardian ad Litem 2012 Transportation Pilot Project Review.

 

STATEWIDE GUARDIAN AD LITEM PROGRAM ANNOUNCES OVERVIEW OF
2012 LEGISLATIVE RESULTS

Thanks so much to all the GAL volunteers who support the Guardian ad Litem Program. You have created a situation which makes our legislative session so much more successful and meaningful. I have been meeting with the governor's staff, legislative staff, and legislators; the work has already been done by all of you showing the importance of the GAL Program to children through word of mouth in the community about how you have made a difference in the lives of children.

The legislative session comes to a close with many cuts taken in education, healthcare, and civil and criminal justice. The criminal justice portion of our budget has been especially hard hit, with the Florida Legislature being forced to weigh which prisons to keep open and what prevention programs could be funded. Despite these monumental challenges, the GAL Program has received a substantial increase and has not been cut for several sessions. This is remarkable considering the economic downturn the state has been facing.

Our program is really appreciative of Governor Scott, First Lady Ann Scott and the governor's staff. They have kept me up to date on issues impacting guardians ad litem and child welfare. As I have stated often, we have a friend in the governor's office when it comes to supporting the GAL Program, including the governor setting up a televised swearing in of our GAL volunteers during the legislative session and offering technical assistance from his staff, including the Office of Policy and Budget.

The House and Senate have also been very supportive across the board. The GAL Program was brought up in legislative budget meetings throughout session trying to come up with more dollars so children can have a voice and have a better outcome by having a volunteer child advocate. Throughout session, legislators would encourage me, our program and our volunteers to keep advocating for children. A special thanks goes out to Speaker Dean Cannon, Speaker Designee Will Weatherford, Representative Dennis Baxley, Representative Denise Grimsley, Senate President Mike Haridopolos, Senator J.D. Alexander, Senator Ronda Storms, Senator Nan Rich, and Senator Joe Negron to name a few.

The program was not targeted for cuts during the budget process and at the end of the process; the GAL Program received an extra $1.5 million. The state has only awarded extra funds to programs with extraordinary records of success and this is a testament to what the Guardian ad Litem Program has done for Florida's children year after year.

The Orange County Bar Association also received a $300,000 nonrecurring allocation to expand child representation in that area. In total, we received an increase of $1.8 million dollars.

The program also achieved a key victory with the passage of SB 1960. SB 1960 was passed 115-0 by the House and 40-0 by the Senate, one of the few substantive bills to receive bipartisan and unanimous support in both chambers. Among other provisions of this bill, it changes Florida law to permit guardian ad litem volunteers to transport children served by the program. The bill prohibits judges from court ordering volunteers to transport; this ensures the decision is exclusively the volunteers' with approval from the program.

Allowing volunteers to transport youth will enhance the bonding relationship between the two and will encourage improved communication. Also, allowing volunteers to transport youth to everyday events, such as a school dance, will promote a sense of normalcy for the youth.

Further, the bill creates a structure in which individual counties can fund positions for Guardian ad Litem. This will allow more children to be served and counties to participate in aiding their residents in a new manner.

While most institutions in Florida were fortunate to break even in 2012, Guardian ad Litem was of the very few to come out ahead, both fiscally and legislatively. This year was a landmark year for GAL as it continues to serve more of Florida's vulnerable children.

General Revenue Fund    $31,656,928
Trust Fund $320,249
Positions 539
Total Funding $31,977,177

I want to recognize the Florida Guardian ad Litem Foundation's lobbyist, Monica Rodriguez. She was instrumental in achieving a successful legislative session and preparing the above report. Most importantly, I thank each of you for your dedication to children and inspiration you give to all our staff at the Guardian ad Litem Program.

Alan F. Abramowitz
Executive Director
Statewide Guardian ad Litem Office
1-850-241-3232

Ask a Mentor: Continuing Relationships

Volunteer Question

I am almost finished with my first case. The child "Jessie" is now twelve years old and is placed with her grandmother who has permanent guardianship. I've had the case for almost a year and a half and have spent a lot of time with Jessie. We have a really good relationship. I'm not sure whether it is appropriate to continue the relationship after the case is officially over—I don't believe it would matter to her grandmother one way or the other. I have not talked to Jessie about it, nor have I had a final case visit. I've been thinking about what comes after the case ends.

Mentor Answer

There's no cut and dried answer to this. I have taken the position of leaving it up to the children. When I make my final official case visit, I make it clear that the court no longer needs me to keep visiting and checking to make sure things are going well. Then I tell the children that I will always be their friend and that they can call me. I've had a variety of experiences.

The girl in my first case stayed in touch for about ten years. She then moved to another state and I heard no more. The girl in my second case still stays in touch—it has been over seventeen years. Some I've never heard from. Just last week, however, a boy who was three years old when I took the case and is now eighteen called me to ask for help on an issue. Some guardians assigned to older youth stay involved after the case ends so that they can serve as mentor for youth striving to transition into adulthood on their own. Occasionally it is the parent or the permanent guardian who will stay in touch or will call about something. This means they too learned to trust you and respect the help you can give.

If a guardian prefers not to continue a relationship with children at the end of a case, there are ways to say a caring goodbye that effectively concludes it. Furthermore, if children have a really good support network of family and friends—grandparents who have been involved or other relatives, for example—then they are less likely to need a continuing relationship. They move on with their lives. I let it be their decision, making sure they understand that I will continue to be their friend and that they can call me.

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.

New Event: Volunteer Recruitment Coffee

We regularly host a variety of events to provide community outreach, raise awareness of our program, recruit new volunteers, fund raise and furnish training to our volunteer guardians ad litem. The following event has been recently added to our calendar.

Volunteer Recruitment Coffee
Have your questions answered, talk to current volunteers and learn about our program at our monthly Volunteer Recruitment Coffee. Members of our Volunteer Recruitment Committee will be on hand to discuss the rewards of becoming a guardian ad litem and guide you through the application process.

A Voice Heard 2012 Status Report

Florida Guardian ad Litem Program "A Voice Heard" 2012 Status Report

The Statewide Guardian ad Litem Office provides an annual report "to the Governor, the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court."[1]

This year's report—the "A Voice Heard" 2012 Status Report—is now available for download.

You can read the below excerpt from the report's executive summary and download the full report.

 

The "A Voice Heard" initiative was designed to listen to the voices of children in foster care to better understand their experiences in working with a guardian ad litem volunteer and the expectations they have of the guardian ad litem volunteer with whom they have contact.

The information was obtained from informal conversations between guardian ad litem volunteers in six of Florida's judicial circuits and 152 elementary, middle and high school students, as well as youth who have aged out of the foster care system at age eighteen.

It was consistently confirmed that the bond between a guardian ad litem volunteer and the children with whom the volunteer spends time is built on the following key elements:

  1. Communication: Talking, Listening and Understanding
  2. Personal Interest: Caring and Concern
  3. Support: Emotional and Material
  4. Trust: Openness and Honesty
[1] § 39.8296 (2)(b)(7), Florida Statutes (2011).