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Cape man recognized for work for Guardian ad Litem program; 10-year veteran

By Staff | Sep 17, 2008

A Cape Coral resident was recently awarded the state’s highest honor for serving as a Guardian ad Litem and advocating on behalf of children.

John O’Sullivan was named “Statewide Guardian ad Litem of the Year” on Sept. 9. This year alone O’Sullivan, a 10-year veteran of the program, worked with 12 local children and volunteered more than 80 hours a week.

In the Florida Guardian ad Litem program volunteers represent a child in court by making independent recommendations based on the child’s “best interests,” including factors such as physical and emotional safety, placement in a stable home and an environment that fosters a child’s growth and development.

Before working as a volunteer for the program, O’Sullivan was a former executive for AT&T. He explained that guardians need to have common sense and judgment, but also persistence.

“I’ve just done what any good Guardian ad Litem volunteer does … persistently look out for the best interests of every child I represent,” he said.

After retiring from AT&T and moving to Cape Coral, he decided that he wanted to give something back to the community.

“Really what moved me is that I wanted to give something back,” said O’Sullivan. “To make a difference in a child’s life.”

One of the foster children he has worked with over the last four years — Dunbar High graduate Joshua Kelchner — was awarded the National Presidential Volunteer Award from President George Bush. Six hundred people have received the award over the last eight years.

On Sept. 8, Kelchner was invited to the White House to accept his award, and he invited O’Sullivan and his wife, Phyllis.

“Both John and Phyllis deserve this award because they treat me like family and they were a key part in my getting to the prep school,” said Kelchner at the White House. “And I know my siblings will be OK while I’m gone because of John.”

Kelchner’s parents had their rights terminated over their four children, including Josh and his younger siblings.

According to O’Sullivan, Josh’s goal was to work at a nearby Dairy Queen and adopt his siblings when he turned 18, but as O’Sullivan began spending more time with Josh he noticed his burgeoning potential.

“Josh’s marks started to go up and I saw that he was a bright kid, and then came the idea that we would consider college,” he said.

Kelchner had joined JROTC in high school and expressed an interest in pursuing a military career. When he applied to West Point Academy, school representatives offered him a choice of attending the school directly or going through a one-year preparatory program beforehand.

O’Sullivan said he was concerned because many of the students going to West Point come from traditional households, and in many cases their parents are alumni of the school.

O’Sullivan assisted Kelchner through the decision-making process, and Kelchner later decided to attend the preparatory program before heading to West Point.

“I said to him, ‘This is the first day of your new life,'” explained O’Sullivan. “He isn’t an emotional kid, but it really dawned on him at that moment that he got his wish.”

On Oct. 10, O’Sullivan and his wife plan on visiting Kelchner during parents weekend at West Point.

Since last year the Guardian ad Litem program has represented more than 32,000 children with approximately 6,000 volunteers. It continues to accept applications from anyone interested in becoming a Guardian ad Litem (www.gal.fl.gov).

“Every day I work for kids,” he said. “If every child had a Guardian, we’d have more children looking forward to a permanent family.”

For information the program, call (866) 341-1425.