Guardian ad Litem Program in need of volunteers
Published 12:10 am Thursday, September 5, 2019
By Larry Stombaugh
For the Clemmons Courier
For anyone with a passion for working with children, an excellent opportunity exists to serve as a volunteer for the Guardian ad Litem program. The program was put in place after a North Carolina statute established a law in 1983 that requires that every child involved in the foster care system has representation in court. The mission of the program is to recruit and train volunteers to advocate for these children so that they have a “voice” in the courtroom.
Tammy Baity is the program specialist for Forsyth County for the GAL program. She has been in her current role in Forsyth County since March of this year, and she is passionate about finding volunteers to work with the children that need an advocate to represent them in court. She was initially hired in 2012. She served as a volunteer in Forsyth County before she was hired for her current position.
“I have a passion for this program,” she said. “The volunteers in the program serve as the eyes and the ears for the judge,” she noted. “They visit the kids in their foster home placement, they visit them at school, and they stay in touch with teachers, therapists and other family members to gather information about the child’s well-being. They then report these findings and make recommendations to the judge on the child’s behalf, thus allowing the child to have their voice heard.”
The current need for volunteers has reached a critical level because of a significantly increasing case load. Baity indicated that the number of children who have been referred has doubled in the last three years, leaving at least 53 children in the custody of the Department of Social Services without a dedicated GAL assigned to them. “At one point we had 100 percent coverage,” she said, “but the number of new cases has left us with many uncovered cases.”
She is working hard to recruit volunteers to meet the current needs. “To be a volunteer, you just need empathy and compassion for children. We have retired folks, teachers and even attorneys. It is an amazing program, and the volunteers who work with these children are even more amazing.”
Baity described the training as very comprehensive. Volunteers will spend 30 hours in training including 15 hours in person and 15 hours online. The classroom training this fall will involve three hours for five Saturdays. Once a volunteer is trained, it is required that they see the children assigned to them at least once a month. The first fall training session will be on Oct. 3.
Regarding the crucial need for volunteers for the program, Baity is looking to the Clemmons area to fill the current openings. “We’ve not really tapped into the Clemmons market,” she said. “We have a few volunteers from there, but we hope to find more.”
Two Clemmons residents who have been active volunteers are Donna Sparks and Dave Tyler. Sparks is a retired teacher who has been a volunteer in the GAL program for 11 years. Tyler is retired after a career in advertising, and he has been involved with the program for the past three years.
Both Sparks and Tyler spoke about what led them to become active in the GAL program. “I retired from the Winston-Salem/Forsyth School System, and I missed the students,” Sparks said. “I am able to work for children who need something extra. I knew from teaching that children often need help due to issues with their home life.”
Tyler become involved in the GAL program as a result of volunteering in another capacity. “I was volunteering for the United Way in Wilkes County. I was introduced to the Guardian ad Litem program there, and I decided to volunteer when I saw an opportunity to help children.”
Both volunteers emphasized that it is not necessary to have a legal background or a knowledge of the law to become involved in the GAL program. “I only knew about court from watching ‘Law and Order’ on television,” Sparks noted. Tyler agreed with her by noting that “you should not let your lack of knowledge of the law discourage you from volunteering. I had no background of the law. I was having to look up words like ‘adjudicate.’”
When asked about the intrinsic rewards of being involved in the GAL program, both volunteers offered a passionate response. Noting that some of the children that she has worked with are babies, Sparks commented that watching a child grow is very meaningful. “Watching a child become adopted is very rewarding,” she said. Sparks has developed a strong admiration for the foster parents who she has met while working in the program. “I have met some wonderful foster parents,” she said. “They are not doing this for the money. They are doing this out of the goodness of their heart.”
Tyler’s comments regarding the personal satisfaction of being a GAL volunteer were quite thoughtful. “For me, it’s pretty selfish,” he said. “I had never had the chance to work with children. I wanted to have the opportunity to work directly with them. Working directly with a child in need is far more rewarding than simply making a donation to a child’s charity.”
Both Sparks and Tyler stressed that the support system for volunteers is exceptional. They are grateful for the support that they have received from Tammy Baity and other staff members at Guardian ad Litem.
Baity expressed her admiration for the volunteers who are involved with the program. “There is no way the program could exist without the volunteers. The kids would not be served.” She also observed that “once you get involved with this, it gets into your system.”
For anyone who is interested in volunteering for the Guardian ad Litem program, you can view a video on You Tube titled “North Carolina Guardian ad Litem: Be the Voice.” You can the complete an application to become a volunteer by visiting the GAL website at www.VolunteerforGAL.org. You can also get information about volunteering by calling 336-779-6321,
The orientation session for new volunteers will be offered on Thursday, Oct. 3. The application process and an interview must be completed before the orientation session. The first of the five Saturday training sessions will be on Saturday, Oct. 12. These sessions will run from 9 a.m. to noon.