By: Jeff Stuncard
‘For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me drink; I was a stranger, and you invited me in; naked, and you clothed me; I was sick, and you visited me; I was in prison, and you came to me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, and feed you, or thirsty, and give you drink? ‘And when did we see you a stranger, and invite you in, or naked, and clothe you? ‘And when did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to you?’ “And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of mine, even the least of them, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:35-40).
Children in need
We see news stories every day about children taken from an abusive home or left orphaned because of the tragic loss of a parent due to illness, violence or incarceration. We assume there must be a program or system that will take care of these children. But there is a story behind that story that few people speak about. It is the story of the abused girl who has been moved to six different group homes and three different schools over the past two years. The story of a five year old boy who has been separated from his siblings during the most vulnerable time in his life. The story of the child that sits in the back of yet another classroom failing school because nobody ever cared enough to figure out that she just needs glasses. And the story of a child being handed all of her belongings in a plastic bag at the age of 18 and sent on her way because she has “aged out” of the system. These are stories that occur every day in every city across the entire country and they are occurring near your neighborhood right now as well.
You can make a difference
You have the ability to ensure that these stories have better endings by becoming a part of Florida’s Guardian ad Litem program; a group of trained volunteers who are appointed by local judges to advocate for these children. These are people who fight for these abused, neglected, and abandoned children and make sure their basic rights and essential needs don’t get overlooked or ignored by the system. The Guardians are people who will not hesitate to speak up for their child in court. Their mission is to champion without compromise for what’s in that child’s best interest. There are countless examples where one volunteer has changed a child’s life for the better. As adults, many of these kids have credited their Guardian as the person who inspired them and helped make them the responsible, productive person that they are today.
The Guardian ad Litem (GAL) program is a volunteer-powered nationwide network of committed people from all walks of life. The organization believes society has an obligation to these children who deserve to be treated with dignity and empowered to thrive in the embrace of a loving family. Today, South Florida has many children in the system that have no access to a GAL volunteer. Studies have shown that children who have a GAL in their lives spend less time in foster care, do better in school, receive more services, and are more likely to be adopted into a permanent loving home.
By becoming a Guardian ad Litem, you have the ability to show that child that there is someone in this world who cares about them. As the saying goes, “To the world, you may be one person but to one person, you may be the world.”
GAL volunteers go through a training course and background check. They then accept a child to look after and are sworn in by a judge. You will only need to spend a couple hours each month meeting with your child and will have an entire support team from your local GAL office in your corner at all times. Visit guardianadlitem.org for more information or contact your local office to see how you can help:
11th Judicial Circuit/ Miami-Dade (305) 638-6861
17th Judicial Circuit/ Broward: (954) 831-6214
15th Judicial Circuit/ Palm Beach (561) 355-2773
16th Judicial Circuit/ Monroe: (305) 292-3485
Jeff Stuncard works with the Guardian ad Litem program in South Florida. He can be reached at [email protected].