ASHE COUNTY — The North Carolina Guardian ad Litem programs will conduct a food drive to collect plastic jars of peanut butter and jelly across the state to benefit the local food bank or pantries closest to the Guardian ad Litem program.

This is the fourth year for this community service program conducted by the N.C. GAL programs. Distribution of the collected peanut butter and jelly will occur during the months of October through Jan. 24, 2020.

Peanut butter is something all food pantries need, according to a release from N.C. GAL.

“We added the collection of jelly because we were all once children, and we fondly remember peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as a staple of a happy childhood,” the release said.

“We believe that our peanut butter and jelly drive will help us mobilize and engage our neighbors, friends and community groups to help us in getting these items to local food agencies and will also educate statewide about our program,” said Tamara Lakey, GAL District Administrator of the 23rd Judicial District.

Lakey’s hope is that everyone will join in fighting local hunger by donating plastic jars of peanut butter and jelly before Jan. 24, 2020. Drop-off locations will be listed on the N.C. GAL District Facebook page and updated as they are identified them in each of the four counties.

“You are welcome to call us to find out other various locations in your area,” Lakey said. “If you would like to have a collection box in your business, church, or other location contact us. Also, if you have a group who would like to take this up as a community service effort, contact us as well,” Lakey said.

About the Guardian ad Litem Program Judicial District 23 serving Alleghany, Ashe, Wilkes, and Yadkin Counties:

At the end of August, the four-county GAL Judicial District d23 program served 372 abused and neglected children, and had 108 community volunteers who served as court appointed Guardians ad Litem.

There are still 96 children in the four-county district who do not have a GAL Volunteer to serve as a child’s advocate on their case, according to the release.

To become a NC GAL volunteer and be a voice for the children in the community, visit www.volunteerforgal.org and make an online application. New volunteer training classes will be starting soon, according to the release.

North Carolina Guardian ad Litem equips community volunteers to serve abused and neglected children by advocating for their best interests in court. In 1983, the North Carolina General Assembly established the Office of Guardian ad Litem Services as a division of the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts.

Pursuant to state law, when a petition alleging abuse or neglect of a juvenile is filed in district court, the judge appoints a volunteer Guardian ad Litem advocate and an attorney advocate to provide team representation to the child, who has full party status in trial and appellate proceedings.

All Guardian ad Litem advocates are trained, supervised and supported by program staff in each county of the state. The collaborative model of GAL attorney advocates, volunteers and staff ensures that all North Carolina children who are alleged by the Department of Social Services to have been abused or neglected receive GAL legal advocacy services.

The following are the roles of Guardian ad Litem advocates:

  • Fulfill state and federal statutory mandates to protect and promote the best interests of juveniles in abuse and neglect court proceedings.
  • Help the courts work efficiently toward safety and permanence for children.
  • Conduct independent investigations to determine the facts, needs of the child, and the resources appropriate to meet those needs.
  • Determine the wishes or expressed preferences of the child and report those to the court
  • Provide a voice for abused and neglected children in every county of the state.

According to the release, the model of co-appointing volunteers and attorneys to speak for abused and neglected children in court provides strong, competent advocacy to the children who need it.

Ashe County

Ashe County continues to see a dramatic increase in the numbers of children who have been abused and neglected children in foster care this year, leading to an equally dire need for more volunteer Guardians ad Litem to advocate for these children, according to a release from the N.C. GAL program.

“Currently, we serve over 50 children who have been abused or neglected in Ashe County, 10 plus of whom do not have their own community advocate,” said Michelle Dix, Ashe County GAL Supervisor in Jefferson. “This reflects an increase in the number of children coming into foster care this year despite having additional volunteers step forward to give the children a voice.”

The GAL program is already taking applications for the next training class, which will begin soon. All applications are to be completed online as soon as possible at the N.C. Guardian ad Litem Program state website, www.volunteerforgal.org.

“Guardians ad Litem are not guardians in the traditional sense,” Dix said. “We are made up of community volunteers appointed by district court judges to be the eyes and ears of children who are currently in foster care.”

Guardians ad Litem visit the child in the foster home, speak with teachers and social workers, and generally monitor how the case is progressing to provide the judge with recommendations concerning the child’s best interest, according to Dix.

With the Guardian Ad Litem’s input, the judges can make better informed decisions about each case with the children as a primary focus.

“After you’ve been trained, it takes very little time to help each month and you really do make a huge difference in someone’s life,” she said.

For more information, contact Michelle Dix or any GAL staff member in the Jefferson office at (336) 219-1421 or GAL.District23@nccourts.org. For an online application, go to www.volunteerforgal.org. To stay up to date with news and information, visit its Facebook page, NC Guardian ad Litem – District 23.

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