Chamber Chat - Guardian ad Litem

Oct 21

By Meg Moss

 

The Guardian ad Litem (GAL) program equips volunteers to serve abused and neglected children by advocating for their best interests in court. Since the GAL program was established 35 years ago, trained community volunteers have been the heart of the program. North Carolina GAL Administrator Cindy Bizzell stated that “lives are changed when ordinary people give their time and energy to the extraordinary work of providing a voice for vulnerable children and youth.” A GAL volunteer and appointed attorney work together to protect the child’s legal rights and to promote the best interests of the child.
 

At a recent Rotary meeting, I heard a presentation from Allison DeLong, the District Administrator from the NC District 11 Guardian ad Litem (GAL) program. DeLong shared that all 100 counties in North Carolina have a GAL program, and they are representing 17,000 children statewide. In order to serve these children, GAL relies heavily on volunteers, including 120 pro bono attorneys statewide.  District 11, which includes Lee, Harnett and Johnson Counties, has 135 individuals who serve as advocates for these children. DeLong was pleased to announce that out of the 40 children in Lee County needing representation last year, all of them had a volunteer to be their voice in the courtroom. But volunteers are still needed, as new cases arise frequently. These 135 volunteers in District 11 donated 13,000 hours of time over the last year.
 

In fiscal year 2016-2017, there were 5,371 GAL volunteers statewide, and they provided 515,616 hours of service. Through these volunteer efforts, GAL’s and pro bono attorneys saved the state of North Carolina $12.45 million.
 

The GAL program recently published a book called “Voices”, which is a collection of essays and messages from GAL volunteers and staff, and District Court Judges. One of the essays in the book was written by First Lady of North Carolina and former GAL volunteer, Kristin Cooper. Portions of her letter read:

“…Being a GAL for fourteen years remains one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. In those fourteen years I have seen several children reunited with their families. I have seen several families created through adoption. I saw a mother kick a decade’s long substance abuse addiction to get her children back. I have gotten a text from an adoptive parent that said only, “Our (adoption) decree just came in the mail!!!” I have had lots of kids proudly show me around their new rooms, pointing out their books and toys. I’ve seen Kindergarten graduation and summer camp photos and felt a part of all “my” children’s lives … I am very proud of the tiny role I have played in the lives of a handful of children through the GAL program. I hope some of them learned from me, a fraction of what I learned from them.”
 

And in a written statement from one local GAL, Daniel Simmons, shared “A Guardian ad Litem has the potential to change the entire trajectory of a young person’s life. Representing the best interests of a child in court can be the difference between a life of dysfunction and a life of opportunity and happiness for a young person.  That is why I serve.” Simmons is also the CEO of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Carolina.
 

In order to make our community a thriving place to live, work and play, we have to include the children who need us the most. Thank you to all those serving as a Guardian ad Litem. And if you have an interest in getting involved in the process, please contact me at mmoss@growsanfordnc.com and I’ll put you in touch with the right folks.



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