The 2nd Sheriffs Challenge – East is coming up on May 4 at the The Links golf course in Sandestin. This is one of our two major fundraisers to support the children in the Guardian ad Litem program in the First Judicial Circuit. There are hundreds of children in the program and we need your assistance. Even if you don’t play golf you can still help our community. Visit our registration website:
Change is inevitable. This year has seen some incredible accomplishments through the efforts of the Foundation Board of Directors. Thanks to the capable leadership of Mr. Charles Schuster, The NW Florida GAL Foundation became the recipient of the 2018 Guardian ad Litem Statewide Non-Profit of the Year! No minor accomplishment as the competition is very tough.
Mr. Schuster has guided the Foundation from a small group of volunteers to a regional powerhouse committed to raising the awareness of the needs of the First Judicial Circuit and the children appointed to the GAL program. As the driving force behind the Foundation Board of Directors, his unwavering dedication and attention to detail has placed us among the top tier of non-profits in the region.
Unfortunately, Mr. Schuster is stepping down. Words cannot really express the depth of the loss to the Foundation with Chuck’s departure. Our thoughts and prayers go with him as he transitions to a life without Board meetings and fund-raisers. We know that Chuck will continue to be an important resource as the Board forges ahead. The Foundation is left in very capable hands and it is a comfort to know that we will continue to have the support and counsel of Mr. Schuster.
We would be remiss if we didn’t provide the GAL family the opportunity to share their thoughts and remembrances of Donna. We all loved Donna and will miss her dearly. We would love to honor her with your comments.
Many times a community can address problems in a more effective and powerful way by teaming up. Such is the case with the relationship with NW Florida Guardian ad Litem Foundation and the University of West Florida. Not only is UWF President, Dr. Martha Saunders, helping us recruit through our media campaign but also students from UWF, particularly the School of Nursing, have already become Guardian ad Litem volunteers!
It’s a huge win for the community and, in particular, the abused, abandoned and neglected children appointed to the program. Thank you Dr. Saunders and the UWF family for seeing the need to make a connection!
Dylan, one of the children I represent loves baseball. He has an amputated foot and had broken his hip. Dylan would soon be having surgery to repair this injury. Dylan wanted to play on the school baseball team. Unfortunately, he was not picked to play on the school’s team. I wanted to help, I reached out to one of our board members. He had persuaded the Foundation Board to sponsor a recognition event for Guardian ad Litems (GALs) and the children they represent by attending a Blue Wahoo’s GAL appreciation night. He arranged for Dylan to throw out the first pitch and meet the team.
Dylan was so excited and told anyone who would listen that he was going to meet the team. I invited 10 boys from Dylan’s former placement a local group home and 3 of their caregivers. I invited all the children I represent as well as their caregivers, this included Dylan’s brothers and sisters as well as Dylan’s new adoptive family and their children.
Dylan had his hip repair surgery and was released 2 days prior to the game. Many of the board members visited Dylan in the hospital and were excited for him.
Finally, the big night arrived. Dylan and his brother Kanyon rode with me to the game. When we arrived, Dylan left to meet the team and get ready for his big pitch! I waited outside the stadium with his brother for their siblings, their caregivers and friends to arrive. We were fortunate to be seated together in one section. What a fun night. I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to see the children we represent having such a great time. Dylan was so happy to be the center of all this attention. The board members and our fellow GALs were socializing with each other and the children. The boys from the group home who are low functioning and have behavioral problems were riveted watching the game and didn’t give us a minute’s trouble. The care givers were joking around and laughing. Dylan’s younger brother, who is so distant, was dancing around smiling and playing with his younger siblings. Even I relaxed and just took it all in.
It was such a delight to watch all the kids oohing and ahhing at the fireworks, their faces all turned up to the sky, eyes wide with anticipation. I hope we can organize events like this more often. As GALs we strive to give the children we represent normalcy. This one night, for these few hours, we could all forget the horror stories of abuse and neglect that brought us all together and just watch a baseball game. This event was really one of the happiest days I’ve spent as a Guardian ad Litem.
It’s a pretty exciting time for the Foundation because we are going through a transformation. In light of the genuine need to recruit more volunteers to the Guardian ad Litem program, we took the direction of introducing a media campaign to the First Circuit community. We are approaching the need from all directions including: television, newspapers and radio ads.
The quest for recognition and exposure is paying off! We were recently featured in a segment of the Bobby Likis Car Clinic national radio show. He interviewed us for a 16 minute segment that aired across the country. What a great supporter! We also were featured in a Pensacola News Journal article this past week that generated a lot of interest in the program. And last, but not least, we are airing short commercials, produced by BlabTV and playing during most of their programming, including Blue Wahoo games. The commercials are beautifully produced by BlabTV and we were honored to have the participation of many from the community…you may even recognize some of them!
The message is the most important thing and we will be featuring these ads on the blog, with a little background on the participants.
The first commercial we wanted to highlight is from Aaron Watson. Aaron is a long time Pensacola resident and attorney. While he was more than willing to make the commercial, he was also determined to be a good advocate for the Guardian ad Litem program by becoming a Guardian ad Litem volunteer. We couldn’t be happier or prouder of Mr. Watson as he joins our ranks as a child advocate. Here is his message:
One of my favorite GAL cases involved four beautiful, lively children. They had been removed from their home and placed with their grandmother. Unfortunately, they came to their new home with nothing but the clothes they were wearing. The parents had sold all their clothes, toys, and other belongings….to help finance their drug habit.
The grandmother did the best she could to provide for the children, but when “Back to School” time came, she was overwhelmed.
Through the generosity of the GAL Foundation’s Children in Need fund, all four of these children were provided many of the necessary items for school! Each child was allocated $200, and I, as their GAL volunteer, was able to take all of them shopping at a local store. We purchased new shoes, socks, pants, shirts, underwear, pajamas, and several other special items that each child chose for him/herself. Although we spent over 4 hours during our shopping spree, the children were all so excited and appreciative. In fact, one of the brothers actually said, “I have enough now, let’s save some money for some other kids.”
We even celebrated our successful shopping trips with a McDonalds dinner!
Thank you, GAL Foundation! Because of your compassion and generosity, these four precious children had a wonderful start to the school year.
The UWF Mental Health Nursing Care course was designated as a Carnegie Service Learning course to learn communication and teamwork during a day in the UWF Community Garden. A speaker from the Guardian ad Litem (GAL) program was invited to address approximately 50 students to discuss the needs of the community, and the importance of addressing mental health issues and getting involved. Directing the effort is Dr. Jill Van Der Like (a GAL volunteer), who will be the first to tell you that mental health issues affect all of us every day. Students responded with positive feedback, and written reflections provided hope on the impact of the experiences.
“The most significant communication event I experienced was being gathered in the garden with my peers and listening to the speakers. The woman from Guardian ad Litem shared one of the most powerful stories I have ever heard. She really stressed making time for causes you feel are important. I now have a broadened view on victims and survivors of abuse.” ~Simone Agulto
These experiences shape how young students perceive their role in the community and the awareness that comes from exposure to real-life situations, ones that GAL volunteers know all too well. It is obvious this exposure has the potential to lead to a life-long commitment to volunteer activity that will benefit the community for years to come.
“The most significant event I think happened when we listened to the dramatic story of the Guardian ad Litem volunteer, Ms. Piazza. She described the emotional and empowering decision that she made following childhood events that changed her life and lives of other children. At the hearing of all those touching stories that Ms. Piazza described, I feel compelled to get involved as much as time allows in preventing child abuse. I know people in my village in Moldova, my classmates, severely abused by their fathers. At the time I felt bad for them, but as a child there was not much that I could have done. It’s a tragedy that they had to live through all that horror. I understand better, as an adult, their suffering and I will get involved here in the US, and maybe even overseas with time.” ~Anatolie Munteanu
These comments from students are representative of the group and not unique conclusions at all. It would seem that the garden setting is an inspiration for addressing mental health issues.
“Within the UWF Community Garden, both physical and emotional sustenance can be found. The food grown is minimal, but clean and sweet, but the quiet greenery is peaceful beyond anything. Even the work that is still needed brings some therapeutic relief in that you can be active and know that you are working toward something kind of awesome. The biggest opportunity I can fathom for improving community engagement is to inform people that this garden exists.” ~Meaghan Boggs
We would like to encourage you to visit the garden and share your thoughts about your experience.