Ashley Rhodes-Courter, Child Welfare Advocate

five years the Parent Association Community Association I said this time of year sponsored a holiday gift drive for the garden is over this year 220 children and everyone from our three-year-olds to our program has been a great partnership for us : last year are something very special happens two of our freshmen who are now sophomores take the penalty and jerusem decided that they would like to actually form a garden at my pub on campus so that the school was doubly learning more about the very program we're doing things for people in the program not just once a year but throughout and so chicken truly thank you so much for your special efforts there they are responsible for bringing Ashley roots quarter with us this evening so looking forward to them I have be honored this evening of introducing the circuit directly to vary the program Donna Rasmussen and done that when they ask you to come home I know you have a special it's my honor this evening to honor somebody who in addition to partners like we have Derrick shortcrust is our community advocate of the Year for 2015 and it's Ken Berg who is worth of our circuit court Mr Burke can you come up every year someone order some an organization that has done a lot to support the mission of partner by programs briefly on mr. Burke is at work of the students work he was sworn in in January of 2005 his mission is customer service excellence commitment to work and compassion for one another he definitely demonstrates on those core competencies shortly after he was elected to office we approached him because there's a there's a law that allows her to donate their feed as opposed to receiving it to a charity and Vietnam had success with doing that before and he was very open to getting that program started so allows donations not only to our children's needs but to domestic violence shelters in the community the other thing that he allows us to do that it's really critical if he allows us to speak briefly in front of civil jury pools just a few minutes to tell them a little bit about how they can help out by serving as a volunteer Guardian lion and we've had great success and a lot to really follow the news from the fabulous service club through and Cheney and last year we started the guardian ad litem service club here at short rest of this summer both of us read the book three little words written by this a quarter and after reading it we going to be a grad yes see if there was a spot for her to come and talk speak to the student body at rest so we both emailed her and we found out that her sentence was going to start out here at Short all of you came out I recognize some of you from all over this for Ritchie's BPM this is really neat you can find out always get an opportunity to address or thank or appreciate the people that I work with every day and never from my own back yard so this is really a great opportunity and I think that you took all the time to to come out and learn more about the Guardian program and I love the fact that shorefront has the service club that addresses the needs of federal receive my garden items a garden of my time also known as confident as if any partisan parts of the country aren't important point in Special Advocates and they're they have a really unique role in the court system so when you go to court you have caseworkers and you'll have Oscar children or have the birth parents you'll have foster parents the judges everybody there sort of has a different objective everybody there has new idiom boss or someone else that they're listening to you or other consideration to make when they're giving their decisions what's unique about a guardian is that a guardian is there specifically to be the voice for the child they're not the representative for the biological parents they're not representative for the foster parent they're not representative for the state they are volunteers who come in and take their time and their talents and their energies to making sure that the best interest of the child is what's really being heard in court so a guardian is kind of the person who puts the child in child welfare if you will it's awesome why are the foster parents locally obviously I have a guardian item who made a tremendous difference in my case so even though I do a variety of presentations this afternoon when I talk to the upper school here we talk a lot about education and overcoming obstacles but tonight we're here to celebrate during that night and hopefully re-energize some of the guardians that are already here because I know it can be such a thankless job and so often you are met with a lot of frustration and you wonder if you're making a difference well I hope that my story can reinforce the work that you're doing and I hope that those of you who are new to this whole process that you might consider becoming a guardian or giving back to this population in some way because you don't have to go far to see families who are hungry or those who need assistance children who don't have access to education children who don't have school supplies and I know what that's like really intimate to do but I was once one of those kids so every chance I get I'm always the one to be so thankful for those who came together and made my story possible because without community members like you my story well I certainly wouldn't be here today with all of you in this capacity I would like to show you an introduction that comes from a larger project that I worked out when I was a teenager and this was a film called pathways permanency so I work with my adoptive parents who are documentary filmmakers and they were trying to really illustrate a lot of the techniques that are being used around the country to find permanency for kicks so we use my story help illustrate how these different models work most of the time I consider myself pretty lucky I finally have a nice family and I get to see my brother whenever I want I'm planning on going to college and we'll have good opportunities but no kid should have to spend ten years in foster care not all children are entitled to return an item especially back then you you had to be like a really special case to get one and after the foster home where this woman named Aaron Miller was already visiting another kid in the home so she was like hey what's up with you my brother and I have been in foster care for more than five years but nothing had been done in my case my mother hadn't told anyone who my father was she wasn't working her case plan and we were basically just floating around well Mary had to fight to be appointed to our keys in the first place so that should be a pretty good indication of how things were going to roll laughter that needless to say it less than five months she had my entire case plan changed so this whole time they kept giving my mother a chance after chance after chance and Mary shut down this hippies permanency do something here so she made sure that the case bed had actual time limits and that my mom was actually following through with what she said she was doing if she's like hey I have this job it with these for the last time as well Mary could go order a junior bacon cheeseburger scope it on out oh you've never met this person in today you know she was really holding people accountable and ultimately she got my plan changed from her unification which meant that I would go back with my mother to determination of threats and rights which would mean that I would have a chance to find an adoptive family so after nothing had been done in my case in over five years she did all of this in five months and what was tired of E is that she didn't have a PhD she wasn't an attorney she was just a woman who had a little bit time and a really big heart and she saw that there were these kids that were not having their voices heard their needs would not be anything and that someone had to say something someone had to do something so that's what she did I mean I'm more energized than ever to be an advocate because these issues aren't going away these stories are still unfolding and it didn't end with mine so I'm hoping that my story is to be a constant reminder of the aftermath of what can happen when you do what you're doing because if you don't and so many more of us are going to be falling through the cracks and absolutely nobody to speak for us so that's what you're doing ultimately out of more than 200 people Mary Miller was one person it's not paid to take care of me yet she was the only one who believed me when I said I was being abused she got me out of those in the use of such visions and ultimately help find me the adoptive family that completely transformed my life so that is the power of one person now what am i hiding in my honor of my pleasure to introduce Amy Boxer and she's kind of like a big deal in a lot of the parties and certainly the big baby might honchos with regarded by the foundation of Jenna fan I don't want to butcher and it is that she's going to say it but she is going to come in about how important is something the many ways that you can teach from you and I just hope that my story can service just one example of what you're doing full of energy and excitement as I hope you enjoyed her story as much as I knew every single time I hear it and you know the point of Ashley's story is to really inspire each of us to take action to make a difference in the lives of the child and I want to thank Ashley for taking the time tonight to share her story with us and everything she gotta do that she doesn't just advocate here locally she advocates nationally and she's very busy so we're really thankful that she's able to help raise awareness as some of the challenges that our children things in the system I want to make sure Kratts long-term partnership with the guardian ad litem out receptacle for the generosity of your families not only at this time of year but throughout the year we have a number of parents here at your press who serve the story his life volunteers and we're also very excited about the variegated light of the service club which you've heard a little bit about tonight not only have they provided support around injury and marketing pieces for us vidiian is we have some really talented students here that are going to go off and do some great things they're spending time at local venues recruiting war dirty and litem volunteers and they organized this event tonight Hollander so let's give a big round of applause for the guardian ad litems Foundation of Tampa Bay and visions of the world with a happy ending Ashley you a story has a happy ending there's lots of different ways that we can define success for children in here not all of them need adoption sometimes of successful reunification some kind of its permanent guardianship but we envision a world where every child has a safe and permanent home with the opportunity to thrive today there are more children in here than ever since 2002 and every one of us can make a difference in the life of a child whether we do it with our own talents or treasure we need more guardian ad litem volunteers to serve as the voice of the child at work and I can just tell you from my own personal experience that being a guardian ad litem volunteer it's one of the toughest volunteer roles that you'll ever love and it's really one of the most rewarding roles so I thank everybody for spending some time with us tonight I want to thank actually again for sharing her spending the generous Club and short Pressburg and thank you all for caring about children and care you

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