E- Advocator 
  Insider News for the 
Sixth Circuit  Guardian ad Litem Program    
                                                                                                      April 2019
In This Issue
Save These Dates!

Brown Bag Lunches

Friday,  May 17
Friday, June 21
11:30 AM
Pinellas BBL
Icot Office, Clearwater

Friday,  May 17
Friday, June 21
12:00 PM
New Port Richey BBL
West Pasco Govt. Center
8731 Citizens Drive
New Port Richey

Pinellas In Services:
Thursday May 2
1:30-3:30 PM
MDT Staffings
Ashley Wert, Behavioral Health Care Coordinator 
Icot Office,  Clearwater

Wednesday May 22
6:00 PM-8:00 PM
Townhall with 
Director of Lutheran Services, Heather King
Director of Directions for Life, Michelle Pedigo
Icot Office, Clearwater

Please register on the on-line events calendar under the Pinellas tab for the training    HERE

Pasco In Services :  
Monday, May 12
"Grief" by Suncoast Kids Place
10:00 AM-12:00 PM
Commissioners Bd. Room
West Pasco Govt. Center
8731 Citizens Drive
New Port Richey

Please register on the on-line events calendar under the Pasco Tab for the trainings  HERE

GALF Announcements:
Are you interested in receiving news and resources directly from the Guardian ad Litem Foundation of Tampa Bay?  If so email  Tawnee at and she will happily add you to the email list!    

February Stars

Mario Rendina
Kim Lisle
 Ethan Romans
Karen Moses
Cathy Schwartz
Lynn Romano
Patty Harris
Kathy Samlick
Robin Davidov
Stephanie Addis
Linda Mederious
Joselyn Dulberg
Lyn Lund


March Stars

Rita Burdick
Ardith and John Young
Robert Mussoni
Jennifer Bravick
Judith Martinez
Beth McCarty
Kim Hedgell
Jeanette Siladie
Barbara Henderson
Sarah Cibula
Christy Ann Nichols
Kim Neagles
Sam Harris
Margaret McLaughlin
Sharon Wilson
Rebecca Daggett
Gerald Allen 
Glen DePasse
Sean Edwards
Great Peeps To Tweet

A special Kudos from volunteers,   Claudia and Joel Smith who  would like to recognize Jean Walder  in the West Pasco  office. "My husband and I have been GAL volunteers for over a year. I have had many interactions with Ms. Walder during that year and she remains a constant positive, professional and helpful person every time. Her positive attitude in helping us has gone a long way in our experience as volunteers.  Please express my thankfulness to her by recognizing her in the next newsletter. The GAL program is better for her and gives volunteers a positive impression of that program."
Kudos to  Ray Kulla 
who pushed hard to change the goal after 2 years to adoption!  
Thanks to  Les Davis
who keeps track of all 6 kids on his case and 2 placements and weekly staffings with FIT team.
Great work to  Patricia Ford
 for taking 2 cases! She just had a very successful adoption recently that she made sure the adoptive parent was kept informed of all the steps she needed to get completed and then made sure case management had all the documents. GAL did a lot of follow up to make this successful!
Kudos to  Shawlet Rose  for keeping taps on her difficult teenage! She always calls her CAM (Carmen) to keep her updated.
Thanks to  Vicki Reuter
 for writing up optima notes everyday because her case is very involved with 5 kids and 2 placements.  She communicates with everyone involved including school personnel. 
Kudos to  Sue Anderson
 for writing and investigating her case on a  parent that we are going to trial on soon.
Great job to Jeanette Siladie for advocating to the General Magistrate to change or at least add concurrent goal of adoption on parents who have not completed any case plan for nearly 9 months since the child was born.  The General Magistrate agreed.  
Kudos to new volunteer child advocate,
Brittany Schrader , a Pasco VCA, who recently took her first case and  is willing to visit a Pinellas child in the FH !    Thanks for stepping to to help!
Kudos to Pam Wolfgang
The Judge was very happy with your awesome JR report and complimented you this morning. He read from and made some of his rulings directly from your report! You Rock!
Thank you from Karen to Carol Williams for helping with the Sea Turtle Awareness Day display.   Also kudos to
Michele Gibson for representing Guardian ad Litem at the ELC 5K.
Thanks  Sam Harris for being a great advocate and for his help with interviews. Sam is heading out with his wife in their RV to travel so we wish him well on his new adventure!
Thank you to Team Diana!  While this CAM was out on leave, you  all did a phenomenal job!
Kudos to  Judy Tangney for your case coverage on CAM Diana's cases!
Thank you to  Bob and Sandy Amon who always come to their CAM's rescue!
Kudos  Kay Brulo whose attention to detail is extraordinary.
Thanks  Mike Bailey who never ceases to amaze his CAM with great visit notes, and ongoing contact with parents. 
Thank you  Ann and Frank Zebert whose diligence and patience are outstanding.
Kudos B ecky Weiss who exhibits extraordinary patience with the parents
on her case! 
Thank you to  Tony Gerodimos for a successful reunification! 
Kudos to  Deb Fusek for never giving up!
A gigantic thank you to the GALF and Volunteer Child Advocates,  Joel and Claudia Smith.  Together they made an 11 year old's birthday extra special in April. The child is attending weekly hitting sessions at the "Hitting Academy" in Clearwater, courtesy of GALF.    Joel and Claudia are not only transporting him weekly from Hudson to Clearwater for the specialized instruction, but they also made his birthday extra special by equipping him with a new glove, baseball and bat.  Maybe, a future Major League baseball star that got his start, thanks to the GAL Program!
Street Beat
Hanging of the Hands during Children's Week in Tallahassee, March 2019

Pinellas February class

Pasco February class

Pasco March/April class
Welcome Newly Certified Volunteers

Mary Albrighton 
Alan Braunstein    
Daniel Burnstein 
Ashley Butler 
Annette Charlton
Shirley Copperman 
Gail Cox
Beth Crosa 
Gayle Curtiss 
David Deviese  
Tory England  
Susan Ferraro
Debra Fuxan
Pauline Gerardi 
Gordon Haughton  
Sandra Hazners  
Cary Heath
Lakeisha Hutton  
Courtney Irelan
Brianna Jordan 
Chandra Kasakevich  
Deborah Lauren 
Edward Mara 
Maria Martinez
Andrew Maurin 
Jeanne Million 
Michael Ott
Katie Phelps 
Amber Rohling   
James Bob Ross
Susan Schneider
Nicole Silvera
Antoinette Soares
Beverly Smith
Brooke Tanner 
Michele Vosotas
Shannon Waites 
Brooke Williams 
Reed Wineland
Marie Ziegler 


Donna Gaffney 

Peggy Miller

Anna Patton-Hauser

Gregory Cardinal
Lester Davis

Eleven Years
Norm Bungard 
Regina Knight 
Maria Melissas
Joan Spangler

Ten Years
Pat Klein-Kendall

Eight Years 
Linda Barbera 
Gene Goldberg
Cynthia Allen
Cynthia Neumeier 
Selina Santana
Ellakave Wisdom

Seven Years
Daniel Sieggreen 
Charis Campbell, Esq. 
Patricia Ford
Rob Jeans
Peg Landers 
Lorijean McNally

Six Years
Andrea Truslow
Kathy Robinson 
Katherine Jackson 
Kem Arfaras 
Randi Callahan 
Gretchen Ackerson 
Lisa Richards
Christina Strickland
Five Years
Marcia Merrifield 
Lindsey Wilson 
Molly Camp 
Elizabeth Samuelson
Maurice Acuna 
Khedjia Nottingham 
Joanne Lindauer
Diane Sharp 
Kate Kohler 
Patricia Ford 
Julie Paver 
Cheryl Schwartz 
Sarun Chhoeung
Jill Long 
Stephany Sanchez, Esq. 
Jo Streitmatter 
Barbara Lueth 
Kandis Pinkstaff
Kateka Riggins 

Four Years
Roberta Small
Jody Hansen - Walker
Tracy Hanson 
Kara Rogers 
Mark Weinkrantz 
Rebecca Young

Three Years
Angie Kirkland
Richard Nochol
Kerri Shaver 
Dana Noble 
Lisa Crandall
Martha Shibley 
Alycia Weigley 
Brittney "Paige" Baker 
Suzzette Bernardo 
Ramita Buckley 
Tara Caney
Michael Chambers
Linda Dodson 
Donald Golliher
Jillmarie Guarino
Susan Kristensen 
Tracey Lawrence 
Jennifer Matthews 
Mary McMannis
Jennifer Munro
Marcie Novis-Levine
Dawn Schwirtz 

Two Years
Patricia Baiely
Wanda Hord
Ashly Valenzuela 
Carolyn Adamski
Christina Callegari
Alex  Gavin
Kim Lisle
Louis Keller
Kimberly Neagles 
Verona Bowen
Lyle Burmeister 
Andrea Conte 
Gerald Dost
Ann Dwyer
Ruth Fletcher
Beth Galic
Antoni Gerodimos 
Stacie Haggerty
Richard Huff Jr. 
Ariel Kelly 
Jason Kurrack
Gina Logan 
Trishana Lopez 
Alvercy Love 
Dorothy Pryor 
Thomas Seriani 
Sarah Speicher 
Alexander Stevenson 
Julie Stevenson 
Sandra Weller 
Monique Williams 
Karen Wingert
Kewa Wright 
Herbert Youngblood

One Year 
Terry Bechtel
Geraldine Ford  
Johnna Auman 
Susan Henson
Mary Franklin 
Kimberly Hughes 
Shelly Hayes
Pamela Pampemella
Jessica Matthews 
Raymond James 
Clara Rodriguez 
Isabel Walker-Burgos 
Prianka Nagpal 
Elizabeth Perkins
Margaret Bennett
Chuck Blumenkamp 
John Brass 
Elizabeth Clark 
Michiele Conklin 
Sara Dayton 
Dayina Eads 
Nikki Estep
Cheryl Falzone 
Melin Faza 
Maureen Figuerado
Nancy Fritz-Williams 
Judy Hallstrom 
Erika Johnson 
Raymond Landes 
Michelle Lisan 
Tracey McManus 
Rebecca Melton
Sheri Middlemas 
Sara Milanese 
Gabriella Moser 
Susan Murphy 
Daniel Pearch 
Pamela Pearch 
Jayme Rothberg 
Brandon Sartor
Taylor Scribner 
Judith Scully 
Elizabeth Steele 
Vicki Williams 
___________ _________

Director's Directions
Mariela Ollsen,
Circuit Director     

It always seems impossible until it's done. 
Nelson Mandela
Thank you to all the volunteers and staff who are so diligent to visit their assigned children each month and to ensure their notes are recorded in Optima.  Our 6th Circuit GAL Program is routinely one of the highest in the state with monthly visitation documentation in Optima.  I am proud of your diligence, hard work and advocacy. 

Triumph Award

Robert Hurley, center with other winners Angela,  left and Jas, right ( photo courtesy of State GAL Facebook) 

We would like to congratulate Robert Hurley, who is the statewide winner of the Triumph Award from the  Florida Guardian ad Litem Foundation.  He was honored for overcoming obstacles and  his outstanding achievement as valedictorian of Boca Ciega High School with a 4.6 GPA.  Robert is active in clubs, plays and musicals, and is interested in giving back by "telling kids they can make it"  as well as motivating  them to help through adoption of  a child.  Robert may attend Yale or Stanford, and he is interested in science and math. His wonderful high school teacher, Amy Krusemark, stepped up at a critical time in Robert's life, becoming his foster parent, providing him  important stability.   Thank you to the outstanding mentorship  and encouragement  through the years from Guardian ad Litem Child Advocate Volunteer, Gene Goldberg and Child Advocate Manager,  Laurie Rosati.  Robert's success is an inspiration for all volunteers  to always encourage and  never give up on the kids we support.  It is possible to overcome great challenges and triumph.
. _____________________________________________________
Go The Extra Mile!
There is a great new opportunity for volunteers who drive at least 25 miles round trip to visit a child, or other specific purposes, to apply for travel reimbursement!  Details of this program, forms and a brochure can be located on the Fl. Guardian ad Litem website.    To go directly to the program click  HERE.   If you have any questions, please reach out to your Child Advocate Manager.  

Sixth Circuit Vital Statistics:
As of  April 2019

Children in Dependency   
 2552  (< )

Of those without a GAL
661 (<)
Case Volunteers   
949  (> )
Transportation Approved Volunteers
        310 (> )

GAL Best Practices

E-Mails: There is so much communication via email. Please  make every effort to check your inbox for any updates and  inquiries on your case(s). In-service flyers and  announcements are also delivered via email as well
as court date reminders and request for Judicial Review

Education: Please obtain school records and updates in regard to  the children you represent to be prepared to respond  to any educational questions that the Court may have.

In-Services: Please be sure to document your in-service credits or let your CAM know so that your in-service credits are duly recorded in our system.

Releases:  Always remember to keep releases with you.  when you see a parent on your case, please have them sign it so that you and your CAM can request records.  

Placements:  Make sure that at every opportunity you inquire as to additional placements for your child. Placements can be relatives but can also be school teachers, mentors, coaches, neighbors and anyone who has developed a relationship with the child and is approved. 

Legal Forum
Training Tip:  There are many excellent on line trainings on the State of Florida Guardian ad Litem Website that you can use to enhance your knowledge as well as counting toward your annual in-service training requirement.   Click here 

Welcome Aboard New Attorneys!

Michael Doherty, Esq.

Michael is the newest attorney addition in our Clearwater Office at the Justice Center. Originally from Freeport Maine, he attended Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, where he received degrees in political science and sociology. After graduation, he returned to Maine and helped the family run a Country General Store. In time, he returned to school, traveling to the University of Tulsa, College of Law where he earned his Juris Doctorate in 2008. Once again returning to Maine, Michael represented parents in dependency cases and also practiced in the areas of family law and estate planning. Eventually, the warm weather brought him back to Florida.  Since returning to the area, he has been in private practice and has worked with the St. Petersburg Community Law Program. Before practicing law Michael spent two years fishing on the Bering Sea. He lives with his wife of 25 years. His two children are both currently in college, but neither one is leaning toward a legal degree, yet...

Tonya Young, Esq. 
Toyna is our newest Best Interest Attorney addition to our Pasco County New Port Richey Office.  She received her juris doctorate from the University of Florida (UF), College of Law in 2001. She has a BA in Political Science from UF and prior to attending law school, she traveled to France where she studied International Law at the American University of Paris. Toyna began her legal career as a law professor at Barry University School of Law where she taught legal writing, appellate advocacy, and Children's Law. While at Barry University, the Toyna L. Young Essay Scholarship was established in her name. The scholarship is awarded yearly to the winner of a persuasive memorandum essay contest for first year students. After Barry University School of Law, Toyna started a family law practice handling primarily dissolution of marriage, child custody/support, and domestic violence injunctions cases. This led to her new found passion for child advocacy and the Guardian ad Litem Program. She enjoys listening to "old school" R&B music and watching "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives"! Welcome aboard Toyna!

Submitted by Kristi Salyers, Supervising Attorney    
Recruitment Corner  

Hello and Happy Spring! April was also Child Abuse Prevention Month and we were able to get Proclamations to help spread awareness in Dade City and Seminole. In Pinellas, we tried a new event to reach a new audience with the Clearwater Marine Aquarium for Sea Turtle Awareness Day at Pier 60 near Clearwater Beach. I had some great conversations with people about how foster children, like Sea Turtles, are all trying to reach home. They all encounter obstacles along the way and they all need our protection to grow  and thrive. We had a game for kids to play while their parents got information on how to prevent child abuse in their community. We also had a booth at the ELC 5K event and each runner got a Guardian ad Litem brochure in their race packet. Larnelle attended Children's Week in Tallahassee and both counties were represented with the Hanging of the Hands with hands our local children made from area libraries and schools.

We are also hopeful that the recent Triumph Award that Robert Hurley received will be another avenue to inspire others to get involved! Robert's story makes it clear that having a strong support system including a Volunteer Child Advocate helped him fulfill his dreams.

We know there is much more to do and many more volunteers to recruit. Please be sure to carry brochures with you and pass the word on to anyone you know. Many of our best volunteers come from hearing about us through another volunteer and we love it when that happens because you truly understand what it takes to advocate for our kids! If you have an idea for us on places to recruit, someone you know that might be a great Volunteer Child Advocate or if you are part of a club, organization or group and are looking for a guest speaker please be sure to reach out to us. In Pinellas, 
contact Karen at  (727) 464-6147 or in Pasco, contact Larnelle at   (727) 834-3493.

Submitted by, 
Karen Malo
Community Outreach Coordinator
6th Circuit - Pinellas County

February Pinellas GAL of the Month
Melynda Whitehead

Melynda (Mel) has only been a certified Volunteer Child Advocate since December 19, 2018. However, in this short time, Mel has impressed me with her commitment to the child on her case and just wanting to do what is needed. Shortly after Mel accepted the case, it seemed like the case blew up. Mel accepted the guidance and support from both her CAM and Mentor. She visited the child multiple times at the foster home and during the parent's visit. She participated in emergency team meetings. She talked with the child's therapist.  Throughout  all of this, Mel documented all of her contacts thoroughly in Optima.  Most Guardian ad Litem Volunteer Child Advocates would have been overwhelmed by the turn of events; however, Mel utilized all of her resources and support team and has done a phenomenal job advocating for the best interest of her child.   All of these reasons are why I have chosen Mel to be the Volunteer Child Advocate of the Month. Great job Mel  
Child Advocacy Manager,
Susan Rice

March Pinellas GAL of the Month: 
  Rita Yezzi

Rita Yezzi became a Volunteer Child Advocate (VCA) two years ago. It seems as though I have known Rita for much longer. She is an amazing person who is completely dedicated and guided though the passion she has to help her children. Rita has been a VCA to seven children-all different ages and with various needs. Her children have had physical disabilities and emotional disabilities. Rita has a unique talent in that she communicates well with all of the children's parents. She maintains consistent contact with them so that she can understand her cases better and what is in the best interest of her children. Rita has the ability to talk to all various types of people, maintains her objectivity, and remains calm and is patient even when conversation becomes verbally challenged. Rita attends all staffings and court hearings and completes the court reports accurately and timely. Rita is pro-active as she visits the children in multiple settings-school, home, and parent visits. She actively reaches out to therapists and teachers to ensure that her children's needs are being met. 

Recently, Rita was involved in a TPR for a child who has just turned 2 years old. The child has been in his foster home since he was two weeks old. Soon he will be adopted by his foster parents. Through normal frustrations during this case, she maintained her neutrality until it was apparent that the parents had abandoned the child. She has been a continued support for the foster family.  I want to personally thank Rita for being the wonderful and kind person she is and how appreciative I am for how hard she works to make things better for our children.

Child Advocacy Manager,
Haron Housman

March Pasco GAL of the Month
Fran Scerbo

Fran, in addition to her own cases and her other volunteer work, is the Lead Assessor on the Assessment Team in West Pasco and has volunteered in this position for over 5 years. Fran is intuitive and very tuned in to human nature and because of these skills, she is invaluable on the Assessment Team. Fran "instinctively" senses a problem or concern with new caregivers and goes right to the issues to give direction for solving the problems. Fran evaluates placement needs; meets the children and assesses their needs. In most cases, Fran is the "front line" of the Assessment Team; Fran follows-up with CPI's to make sure the needs of the caregivers and children are met and writes a comprehensive report with recommendations for the newly appointed CAM's and/or needs that must be taken care of by the Assessment Team. Fran is not only on the front lines for the Assessment Team but also has several of her own cases, in which she travels to wherever the children are placed to ensure the children's needs are met and to continue her relationship with the child(ren) and families in which they are residing with. She always ensures that while working her cases, she communicates effectively with all parties and diligently represents the children in court. Fran is a true asset to our children and families, and the rapport she has with them is remarkable. Fran is also a member of the Guardian Ad Litem Foundation Board and works diligently in fundraising, and events to help support our children, and gain awareness in the community of the Guardian ad Litem Program.

Fran is an all-around inspiration to all of us!

Child Advocacy Manager,
 Brigette Mauger
For the Children
Cooking Classes In East Pasco 

Cooking Classes In West Pasco 

If you have questions on the  East or West Pasco Learn to Cook events above, contact Evelien Still at 727-834-3493.  To register for East Pasco classes click HERE   To register for the West Pasco Learn to Cook classes click HERE


Foster to Foster is a new resource room located at Heritage United Methodist Church, 2680 Landmark Dr, Clearwater, FL 33761.  It  was founded by Kristin Coleman to help meet the clothing needs and fill the gaps for children/teens who are in the child welfare system.   The free items are for children who are in the system, who are in foster care, parental, relative, or non relative placement.  The resource room includes clothing for all ages, toys, books and hygiene items. Hours are Tuesday and Thursday from 9 AM-12PM.   Foster Parents, Case Managers, Child Protective Investigators and GAL Staff/Volunteers can  make an appointment to pick up needed items for the families they serve by contacting Kristin at 727-210-5227 or email to  

Summer Camp Applications Open
Each year, the Guardian ad Litem Foundation of Tampa Bay provides support for children with a volunteer child advocate to attend enriching summer opportunities like day camps, soccer leagues, dance classes and more. Requests for Summer Activities will be viewed on a rolling basis--the final deadline is Friday May 10, 2019. The average approval for summer camp is between $200 - $300. Please plan in advance whenever possible. For a list of items you will need to fill out the application please go to our website:

Self Care Tips

On a recent sailing trip something that I experienced made me think of how this work can be frustrating when we feel we are not making progress on our cases. We had hit some strong headwinds and sailing was not going to get us to our destination quick enough so we decided to drop our sails and motor back to the marina. The winds were pretty strong and when I looked at where we had started it looked like we had not really moved forward. My husband Joe, always the optimist, told me to focus on some nearby channel markers because you could see the boat moving past them.  

I found this perspective helped me to not only stay focused on the destination, but it also helped me to see even though it seemed we were not making any headway, in fact we were but it was just difficult to see it until I looked at the smaller progress leading up to the destination. Sometimes things in the distance can be deceiving so you have to look at what is closer/more tangible to see progress. Eventually, we made it back to home port safe and sound. 

Oftentimes when we are faced with a daunting task such as helping our children reach permanency it can be overwhelming. However if you focus on smaller goals, such as obtaining a needed service or helping your child have a fun day just being a kid (normalcy), you can look back and see how far you have come. This will encourage you to keep moving forward no matter what the obstacles or challenges are. I hope that when you are feeling frustrated with the system or with progress on your cases, you can look at the "channel markers" along the way to gage your efforts along the way and your  progress to helping your child reach a safe and permanent home.

Karen Malo,
Community Outreach Coordinator     
GAL of the Month from Eckerd

We congratulate 
Cathy Schwartz  who was  nominated by Lutheran Services as their GAL (Volunteer Child Advocate)
of the month for March. Cathy transports kids to visits. She is on the same page as the case manager. She communicates well and is very helpful. Cathy is on Dianne Bernard's team.   Congratulations Cathy!

We congratulate Heidi Joswig who was the Volunteer Child Advocate for April  honored by  Case Management Agency, Directions for Living. Heidi works wonderfully with a teen she has been assigned to for many years. Heidi has a strong bond with this youth. She attended an adoption match meeting for this youth. She has attended adoption visits. Words cannot express how wonderful Heidi has been with the teen.  
Thank you Heidi! 

Case Managers of the Month

In the spirit of partnership, the Guardian ad Litem Program nominates a case manager  from the case management agencies serving under Eckerd Community Alternatives. The  case manager from Pinellas for March  is Carlee Rankel from Directions.
Carlee has such a kind personality making her a joy to work with, and goes out of her way to keep GAL updated. The Case Manager from Pasco County for March  is Latrice Hill from Youth and Family Alternatives. Latrice is responsive, professional and on top of things.  Thank you both for your service!


Poets Corner 


I n a complex and changing world, there is often some trouble that brews.
Choices are made, policies put forth, and often citizens may choose.
In the lives of dependent children such choices do not exist for them.
These children live in the unknown, worried, and with no nearby friend.

Enter the Volunteer Child Advocate into this new world of dependency.
Children are trauma struck, know not what to do; such is the tendency.
Thanks to our Advocates, the children's voices are indeed heard.
Thank you for your contributions and know we listen to every word!

Submitted by Diana Aboussir

Core Values G
AL Core Competencies

Commitment to Children- The children for whom we advocate are our most important priority.

Communication Built on Trust- The Program has a culture of open communication, active listening, teamwork, and regard for the views of others. This includes being honest and straightforward with the children we represent in keeping with their level of age and maturity.

Collective Empowerment- 
Each circuit has the authority and responsibility to make and implement the best decisions to meet the children's needs. This empowerment must be passed on to volunteers, staff and attorneys.

Collaboration- The Program proactively seeks to develop relationships that promote the well-being of the whole child.

Courtesy- The Program values all who engage in this challenging work and ensures they are treated with respect and dignity.