Even before I retired from teaching, I knew that I wanted to become a volunteer Guardian Ad Litem. Making a difference in the lives of children who have been abused, abandoned, or neglected makes retirement meaningful in a way that golf or Carnival cruises never could. The needs of these children are great, and it’s easy for them to “fall through the cracks.” Trying to keep that from happening keeps me busy, but seeing positive changes come about makes it all worthwhile. One morning I got a call from the foster mother on one of my cases. The 2-year-old was having an asthma attack, and the Nebulizer he needed had inadvertently been left at his previous foster home. I drove to the previous foster home, picked up the Nebulizer, and returned to the new foster home, where the necessary treatment relieved the boy’s labored breathing. It’s a wonderful feeling to know that I made a difference that day. As a GAL, whether I’m advocating at school, at a doctor’s office, or in court, I know that my extra pair of caring eyes are helping to make life better for “my kids.”
Volunteer Guardian ad Litem Alan Garber is also a juggler, and he enjoys putting a smile on a child’s face. He has taken his juggling skills to SafePlace, a facility which provides shelter and supervision for Broward County’s abused, abandoned, and neglected children when they initially are removed from their families. When taken to SafePlace, the children suddenly find themselves in a strange environment and all alone, so Alan spends time talking to the children and trying to engage with them by using juggling as the ice-breaker. He remembers a 15 year old girl sitting and waiting. She was quiet and feeling both bored and uncertain. When Alan starting talking to her, he was able to engage her in conversation because he discovered they both enjoyed sports. As Alan remembers, “Within an hour, she and I were juggling together, and everyone in the office was joining in; most importantly, she had a big smile on her face when I left. I left her with three balls so she could continue juggling. Unfortunately she was leaving the State and I never saw her again, but I know she is still juggling.”
I once had a case with a 4-year old boy and his 2 year old sister. These innocent children had come into care with severe sunburns and other significant bruising all over their bodies. They had been in foster care for over a year with the same loving foster parents, and the biological parents were fighting us tooth and nail on our petition to terminate their parental rights. At the final mediation, we spoke to the biological mother heart-to-heart and explained that signing a Voluntary Surrender is actually a gift of love that she is giving to her children- the gift of giving them a safe, stable, and loving home to call their own with their forever family. After many tears and sleepless nights, the parents signed voluntary surrenders, and the children were adopted by their foster parents. On Adoption Day, I walked into the Courthouse and immediately saw the two children, and they turned, looked, saw me, and ran so fast to hug me that I was almost knocked over! They screamed my name and were so happy to see me that day. This reinforced for me why I am a Guardian ad Litem- to provide a voice for these little ones. To this day, I keep in touch with them and get regular updates on how they are doing. They have been with their “forever family” now for over a year and a half and are doing great!