Legacy 2017 Miami: 40 Under 40 Issue - Page 15

MONDAY, OCTOBER 2, 2017 AN INDEPENDENT SUPPLEMENT BY MIA MEDIA & COMMUNICATIONS GROUP TO THE MIAMI HERALD BB15 Guardian Ad Litem Volunteers Empower Abused, Abandoned, Neglected Youth By Zach Rinkins Imagine yourself as a child waking one night to a domes�c alterca�on between your parents. You leave your bed to inves�gate the details. Your father is throwing an object at your mother. You jump in the way to protect her. She runs for cover. The object hits then cuts you. This situa�on was not fic�on for Natasha Minzie. “I was in the foster system since I was four-years old and aged out of it when I was 18,” shared Minzie, now 32. Minzie was one of the more than 33,000 children who, according to Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children (CASA) data, are in Florida’s foster care and family court system. Minzie explained that during her childhood she endured many challenges including surviving an unstable household, coping with a sibling’s death from AIDS complica�ons, and finding another sibling’s body inside a pool. “As I grew older, I no�ced that I did not have a normal childhood,” she remembered. “I was the oldest child. I had to be more responsible, compassionate and nurturing. I went through 13 different foster homes.” Minzie says having a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) volunteer brought hope and support to her life. “Having a guardian made a difference in my life,” Minzie reveals. “They helped by assis�ng my case worker. My mother died and my father was not consistently following the case plan. My guardian helped terminate his rights. They made sure I a�ended school and got the proper treatment through counseling and services.” There are 21 GAL programs across the state aimed at empowering voiceless children. Florida’s GAL program is a network of professional staff and volunteers. “GAL was established 36 years ago to create a support system through the children’s court,” shared Rona Sco�, GAL’s volunteer recruiter with the 11th Judicial Circuit (Miami-Dade). “It advocates for the best interests of children who are removed from their homes due to abuse, abandonment or neglect.” According to CASA, 25,000 abused and neglected children benefi�ed from having an advocate last year. Conversely, 6,700 children are wai�ng for a GAL volunteer to help them find a suppor�ve permanent home. Sco� said this disparity fuels her and her Broward County counterpart’s recruitment efforts. “Nearly 50 percent of our children have a guardian,” explained Kerry-Ann Brown, GAL’s volunteer recruiter with the 17th Judicial Circuit (Broward). “We would like to see 100 percent representa�on.” Brown noted that children with guardians earn higher grades, are less likely to be moved to different foster homes, and benefit from having consistent champions advoca�ng on their behalf. With nearly 50 percent of the 3,000 children removed from Miami homes being African American, Sco� emphasized the importance of having more Black volunteers to help children coming from the city’s Black community. “The court appointed GAL with the responsibility for 80 percent of those cases,” Brown explained. “Unfortunately, in Miami, we only have 17 percent Black volunteers, with 13 percent being women and 4 percent men.” Minzie, now a celebrity stylist and GAL volunteer, said giving back to the program that made a difference in her life is a priority. “Self-esteem affects children,” said Minzie, who offers free back-to-school and prom services to children in the GAL program who meet grade and conduct requirements. “I was once in their situa�on. I wanted to help build their self-esteem. I wanted to give back." GAL offers many service opportuni�es including non-case support, case-based volunteers, financial and in-kind dona�ons. Discover more about the program at www.GuardianadLitem.org. RL_Aug.qxp_Layout 1 8/24/17 10:22 AM Page 1 On behalf of Rubenstein Law, P.A., we salute you for your unwavering commitment to the community. We’ve Got Your Back! Congratulations Myya Passmore 2017 Legacy Magazine 40 Under 40 from Robert Rubenstein and the Rubenstein Law family