Guardian Ad Litem, Voices for Kids open new facility
The Guardian Ad Litem and Voices for Kids of Southwest Florida hosted a ribbon-cutting for their new facility in Fort Myers last week.
Both agencies worked out of a warehouse over the last two years after their original office was destroyed in a fire. The new office at 2075 West First St. cost the Lee Board of County Commissioners and Guardian ad Litem $111,000 to complete.
The facility’s staff hopes the new office will help it to represent 100 percent of abused children in the area.
“It’s in close proximity to the courthouse,” said Mary Ann Brownstein, spokesperson. “We have training there and they (guardians) pick up cases. It enables us to do all those things.”
The Guardian ad Litem program is made up of local volunteers who serve as mentors and advocates for children in the state’s welfare system. Guardians in the five-county region of Southwest Florida represent 1,212 children, 77 percent of whom are under court supervision.
Voices for Kids of Southwest Florida’s mission is to support the Guardian Ad Litem program, explained Brownstein.
“Our goal has always been to represent 100 percent of abused children who need a Guardian Ad Litem advocate, and with the new office, and now we have hope we can do it,” said Circuit 20 Director Frank Prado in a prepared statement.
There are 250 Guardian Ad Litem volunteers in Lee County, but according to Prado, 25 percent of children have no advocate. Across the state there are 7,000 volunteers advocating for 26,000 children.
Brownstein added that Lee County has the most foster children. It holds 60 percent of the children from the five counties of Southwest Florida.
Having the new office in downtown Fort Myers also makes it easier for Cape Coral volunteers to help the children. The new office will house 45 volunteer supervisors, program attorneys and administrative staff.
“It is wonderful because people can come in and don’t have to sit on a box,” she said.
Guardians from Cape Coral make up one-quarter of all volunteers, she said.
“It is convenient for everyone in Cape Coral because it is right over the bridge,” she said. “We are highly supported by a lot of people who volunteer from Cape Coral.”
Lee County Commissioner Brian Bigelow acted as master of ceremonies at last week’s grand opening. He said the program is instrumental in giving children a voice.
“It’s important for all of us to remember children who definitely need help and a voice in their own futures,” said Bigelow at the grand opening.
New guardians are always needed. For more information about participating in the Guardian ad Litem program, visit www.guardianadlitem.org or call 866-431-1425.