E- Advocator 
  Insider News for the 
Sixth Circuit  Guardian ad Litem Program    
January 2020
In This Issue
Save These Dates!

Pinellas BBL
Friday Feb 21
Friday March 20
11:30 AM
Epi Center 2nd floor
13805 58th St. N
Clearwater, 33762

Pasco BBL
Friday Feb 21
Friday March 20
12:00 PM
West Pasco Govt. Center
Board Room
8731 Citizens Drive
New Port Richey

In Service Trainings: 
Child Protective Investigator
Treasure Montoya
Thursday March 12
6:00-7:30 PM
EPI Center 2nd floor
13805 58th St. N.
Clearwater FL, 33762

GALF Services and Programs 
Wednesday February 19
6:00-8:00 PM
West Pasco Govt. Center
Board Room

GALF Services and Programs 
Monday March 30
4:00-6:00 PM
Dade City Office
13920 17th St.
Dade City FL, 33523

Please register for 
in-services using the events calendar under the Pinellas tab    here.
Please register for 
in-services using the events calendar under the Pasco tab   here.
Heart to Heart Quarter Auction on
Saturday Feb 1;  1-4 PM
First United Methodist Church 13123 US Hwy 19 Hudson.
A fun afternoon featuring great auction items for bids of a quarter & up. For more information contact B.J. at 727-860-4709. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at the church office or at the door. 

October Stars 
Wendy Hoy
Dianne Grimes
Nancy Barnes
Chandra Kasakevich
Christy Nicholson
Paul Lambis
Winnie Sell
Vicki Tomlinson
Cary Heath
Nile Nickle
Jacob Delorme
Arlyne Vrochidis
Thomas Ketterer
 Fiona Craig

November Stars
Fran Abilock
Jennifer King
Beth Crosa
Elizabeth Doheny
Gretchen Ackerman
Jean Cooley
Susan Ballauer
Lora Moustopoules
Alycia Weigley
Michael Sadowsky
Brad Schlosser
Patricia Alicea
Roger DePauw
Roz Fenton
Peggy Mitchel
Susan Ferraro

December Stars
Anna Cook
Norman Andina
Paula Millen

January Stars
Michele Regan 
 Bonnie Sullivan 
Great Peeps To Tweet

Special thanks to all the CAMS and Volunteer Child Advocates who helped with the drop offs, deliveries and pickups for all the holiday gifts. It is a huge endeavor, but so gratifying to see the children's faces when receiving their gifts.

Kudos to Renee Ingrassia for coming back from leave and taking off with a new case.

Kudos to Jennifer Edwards and Shawn Edwards for doing their first TPR and testifying.

Kudos to Chad Mello for sticking with his case and being on top of all the records.

Thanks to Vaughn Haight   for jumping in and picking up a case for TPR and traveling out of county every visit.  

Kudos Flo Bell for continuing to keep up with the mother in her case because it seems daily she is doing something that is worth noting. Most important is that Flo traveled to the west coast to see friends and was able to see her child who was moved to a special needs group home across the state. She brought her Christmas gifts provided by the Foundation. Thank you! .

Kudos to Courtney Irlan
for communicating and bringing gifts over Christmas Holidays for her teenage mom who is pregnant and lives in a group home. Courtney not only volunteers but is a law student and a mother of a young child. The  time she spends writing notes, attending court and visiting is appreciated.

Thank you Steve Burns. He has a most difficult teenage boy that is in constant trouble- GAL Steve keeps up with him and is trying to get him some help. 

Kudos Patricia Ford.  She has too many cases but this CAM appreciates all that she does for all her children. All the children require a lot of visits and services, staffings, optima updates, JR's and writing TPR reports. Carmen is grateful for her heart and diligence for the children.

Kudos to Carole Deerin for taking on a new case that seems easy but we all know what that really means. Carmen is here for her!

Thanks Dianne Grimes.   She visits and keeps me updated on all the things happening. She works full-time but seems to get all her notes into optima and emails me with important items.

Kudos MaryBeth McNeal.   She was on vacation for a few months but has decided to come back to strongly advocate for a child whose case is heading to TPR.

Thank you  Jennifer Neiser.   She started to volunteer after her husband had been with the program for a few years. He became busy with his law practice, and Jennifer has stepped right in and has two cases! She is doing a great job so far.  

Kudos to  Kathy Smith.  She has been on her first case since 2015, and was persistent to make sure her child sees permanency. Kathy is also a mentor for the program.

Kudos to all the new GAL mentors from our recent Pasco mentor class.  Thank you for stepping up to ensure other volunteers feel supported. 

A huge thank you to the GAL staff for everything you do, every single day,  to ensure that our volunteers feel supported and our kids are safe.  

Kudos to Norm Bungard for everything you do for  the kids in our system and the community.  Norm is always spreading  the word about the need for volunteers and the opportunities in our community and he is always one of the first to volunteer when an email for help with visits or cases goes out. We appreciate everything you do Norm!! 

Welcome New Certified Volunteers

Linda Berry 
Susan Brown 
Zachari Campbell
Sheryl Depp 
Laura Egan
Vanessa Evers 
Aliah Farley
Charles Fonshell
Elinor Fox
Natasha Gallaty
Lee Gandy
Shannon Gibbs
Thomas Hedger
Carolyn Hersh 
Coleen Hill
Curtis Jones 
Michelle Jones
Denis Karaiskaj 
Annie Kushner
Elyse Lewis
Randy (Joey) Newell Jr
Felipe Perea 
Irene Pierpont
Lisa Potthast 
Amy Riley
Carla Rollandini
Amy Seeks
Katherine Shoulta 
Adrienne Signor 


Thirty Years
Fran Naumann 

Twenty Two Years
Belinda Schultz 

Seventeen Years
Rita Burdick 

Fifteen Years
Florence Bell 

Fourteen Years Years
Denise Lipsey

Thirteen Years
George Sherman
Hope Bond 
Joyce Supple
Sharon Marshall 

Twelve Years
Mike Bailey
John Tarrant 

Eleven Years
Mark Welsh
Patricia Harris

Ten Years
Joe Incorvia
Cynthia Rudd 
Kevin Sobat 
 Jayshree "Jay" Pathak 
Vaughn Haight
Beverly Finn 

Nine Years 
Caprice Johnson
Margaret Smith 
Maria Costa  

Eight Years 
Kimsy Brown
Jennifer Parker
 Virginia "Ginny" Nourie 

Seven Years
Denis Fagan, Dennis
Joanne Gonzales
Jill Albury
Steve Rosenkranz 

Six Years
Tandra Mehalopoulous 
Dione Chandler
Debra Brown-Adamo
Judith Emmons 
Paul Cavonis Esq.
Ronald Haddad
Craig Mousseau

Five Years
Steven Tonnesen
Deborah Hoover
Peggy Jasper 
Nicole Johnson
Tracy Wilhelm 
Danielle Jenkins
Samuel Dulberg

Four Years
Clare McCarroll
Arlene Nolke
Britney Whitaker
Nancy Pettygrove
Sally Maier
Eda Reyes 
Allyson Holca
Susan White
Lisa Tellone
Robert Tellone
Kimberly Drake

Three Years
Caroline Neidert 
Nataly Azcurra
Kathleen Minidis
Phyllis Vitale
Suzanne Pileggi, Esq. 
Susan Gorham  
Dianne Smith 
Charlton Simmons
George McDermott 
Susan Swenson 
Anne Glover
Audra Ames

Two Years 
Rebecca Butler
Deborah Fusek 
David Schmueck
Seth Tilow
Suzie Griffith
Brad Schlosser
James Kannard 
Johnny Boria
Doris O'Neill-Dibble
Julie Mahr
Anthony Cademartori
Kari Martin
Charles Webster
Claudia Clark
Heather Williams
Jordon Faza
Debra Orenic 
Karen Peters
Claudia Smith 
Joel Smith
Dorothy Lawton
Lauren Mikus
Wesley Thorp
June  O'Bryon
Heather Burnett
Mary Love 
Amanda DeLeon
Jesse Wagner
Rebecca Avrin
Susan Rowley
Virginia Denike
Joshua Nwajei
Jeidy Beltran
Julie McHaffie 

One Year 
Patricia Alicea
Melanie Bradley
Angela Raytchev
Rebecca Kurzner-Tremblay
Robin Davidov
Laura Gould
Erica Moore
Rhonda Blum
Mackenzie Comey
Lindsay Mochko
Gerald Allen
Linda-Mary Armacost 
Alissa Phillipoff
Barbara Hoffman
Susan Kahn
Jeannine Kwasnik
Sarah Cibula
Debbie Parks
Barbara  Finney
Douglas Harr 
Nancy Sanders
Cynthia Conley
Dianne Grimes
Melissa Samuelson
Chris Ryan
Natalia Piatkowski-Bihorel
Craig Davide
Kristi Davide
Bethany George
Maria McCurdie
Stephen Matheus
Victoria Tomlinson
Kristine Brown
Renita Dean
Melynda  Whitehead
Megan Spayde
Macaria Mercaldi
Latrece Afre
Core Values


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.

Director's Directions
Mariela Ollsen, Esq.
Circuit Director     

Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.
 Thomas A. Edison

I hope all of you had a wonderful and safe holiday and welcome to 

This last year we have seen the number of children grow in our circuit and we have seen our local child welfare agency struggle with turnover.  This has effected our system of care and the children we serve.  We will continue to address these issues, not only with the lead agency, Eckerd, but also DCF, as well as other community partners.  Everyone wants to make the system better and we are searching for ways to improve our system of care, achieve permanency safely and faster for our kids and improve the lives of the families in the child welfare system.  

Before we get too far into the new year, I want to share some of the impact we made last year.  We served 2767 children through the program and we certified 179 new volunteers. We currently have a paid staff of 63 that includes two new CAM positions provided by the State to assist with the increasing amount of kids in our system and to help us advocate for even more children.  

Just this week we closed PG on a teen who had a failed adoption and his request to the court before closure was to make sure that he could continue to have contact with his volunteer who had been with him for the two years his case had been back in the system.  Thank you for your patience, your commitment and dedication to the kids and the program.  Thank you for making a difference!

Go The Extra Mile!
There is a great opportunity for volunteers who drive more than  25 miles round trip to visit a child, or other specific purposes, to apply for travel reimbursement!  There have been some procedural changes for reimbursement so  take a few moments to read it over.  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  December 2019

Children in Dependency   
 3249 (< )

Of those without a GAL
1426 ( <)
Case Volunteers   
947  (< )
Transportation Approved Volunteers
        329 (> )

Volunteer Child Advocate Best Practices  

Schedule your monthly visit for the first half of the month to leave time to visit in the last half of the month if you encounter problems.

If you are experiencing unusual barriers or challenges in your case, contact your CAM and request a full GAL team advocacy review, which would include you, your CAM and your assigned Best Interest Attorney.  This brainstorming session will help develop a plan of attack to move the case forward toward permanency.

There are many challenges given the number of children served by Eckerd Community Alternatives.  Showing kindness to those working in the system including the foster parents, case managers and providers will go a long way to help you accomplish your task.  Be persistent, but also remember to thank those caring for the children. 

Remember to observe the visitation between our kids and their parents at some point in the case. It's important that we observe the interaction between the children and the parents to make informed decisions on how to proceed with visitation. Speak to your CBIA for more direction on this issue. 

Remember to get releases signed by the parents on your case.  It is important that we independently gather information to report to the court and make recommendations. 

For in service hours, or for training on specific issues to enhance your knowledge and skills, use the Florida Guardian ad Litem,  I am for the Child Academy, a free collection of trainings and resources located here.  
Legal Forum

There is positive news regarding Medicaid eligibility for parents whose children have been removed. In the past, parents who did not qualify for Medicaid on their own would lose their benefits when all their children were removed from their custody, but as of September 19, 2019, if the children are removed, the custodial parent(s) may be able to keep their benefits. This will provide them with a greater ability to access medications and services that will support reunification and also provide a benefit to their overall health. Previously benefits would cease if the children were expected to be out of the home more than 30 days, forcing a re-application on their return. Those who did not have Medicaid in place before removal, will still need to apply, and those whose children were removed prior to September 19th, will also need to apply. The new procedure is being applied moving forward from that date. There are some conditions for eligibility to keep the Medicaid benefits; the most significant of which is that the goal is reunification. Entry into the FSFN system by case management of a different goal will end the parents' benefits, unless the parent is eligible in their own right. In light of this change, case management and Guardian ad Litem staff and volunteers should be checking in with parents as to the status of their Medicaid benefits and whether it needs to be re-instated per this new policy or whether they should be applying.

Christina Clemenson, Esq.
Senior Child's Best Interest Attorney
Clearwater/EPI GAL Office  
Recruitment Corner  

This past year in the recruitment department we have been working on increasing the number of times people hear about the Guardian Ad Litem Program. Research shows that before someone will buy a product they need to see an ad or message about it at least 7 times. Some even say between 6 and 20 times. Since we are in essence "selling" our volunteer opportunity, this applies to recruiting Volunteer Child Advocates. Often when I ask people how they heard about us they say they have known about us for a while and have been thinking about volunteering but they did not act upon it for a variety of reasons.

We have bookmarks in the libraries, social media, host display booths at events, speak at meetings, put articles in the newspaper and conduct Information Sessions all in an effort to increase the number of times people hear about Guardian ad Litem. Typically, by the time someone attends an Information Session they have heard about us several times in various ways. When we attend recruitment events or speak to a group we are often planting the seed for future volunteers since many do not sign up the first time they here about us.

We have a great need in Pinellas County for males and especially African American males as we have a disproportionate number of children in the system versus advocates in Pinellas, so are trying to reach out to potential volunteers. Another area we are always working on, is reaching the faith based organizations to serve as a Volunteer Child Advocate, adoptive or foster parent.   If you know someone interested in becoming a VCA here are the steps: 
  • Attend a one hour Info Session (held weekly in Pinellas and Pasco)
  • Dates and times can be found at
  • Fill out online application and autobiography
  • Local Background Check
  • Interview
  • Start Independent Study phase of training(6 hours)
  • Attend Class (18 hours)
  • Level 2 background check
  • Field work (Court Watch and First Home visit with mentor or CAM)
Here are the 6th Circuit year-end totals for 2019:
Number of Volunteers: 956
Recruitment Events: 71
Number of Volunteers who attended Info Sessions: 407

If you have an idea for us on places to recruit, a contact in 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 Malo at 727-464-6147, or in Pasco contact Larnelle Scott at 727-834-3493,

Submitted by
Karen Malo, Pinellas Community Outreach Coordinator

November Pinellas Child Advocate
Kathie Minidis

After retiring as a Project Manager for 16 years,  Kathie Minidis was in the St. Petersburg Courthouse for jury duty when given a brochure for the Guardian ad Litem Program urging volunteers to sign up. Kathie was looking for a place to volunteer to give back and after reviewing the information Kathie decided to sign up and take the class.

Kathie became a guardian ad litem in November 2016.  Most of Kathie's cases have been with children placed at John Hopkins All Children's Hospital who have medical needs and severe brain injury.   Kathie's great qualities have been noticeable among the GAL Program and out of circuit, specifically Circuit 20 where  Kathie works side by side as a Co-GAL. Kathie has assisted greatly with being present for multiple medical procedures and being there to comfort the child and foster mom. Once the goal changed to adoption, Kathie assisted the out of circuit with obtaining medical records and delivering subpoenas.

Kathie travels out of county to testify when needed and visits her children at John Hopkins All Children's Hospital multiple times a week.   Kathie always sends complete reports of her visits, medical updates along with pictures.

Kathie is a natural with all of her children specifically with one child who has a severe brain injury with no motor skills. Kathie easily picks him up and talks to him, cooing to him and hugging him. Kathie also makes sure her child has clothing, interactive toys and music.  Kathie voices her concerns to the medical caregivers to make sure the child's needs are all being met.

Kathie emails details of her visits, contacts and needs to the out of circuit CAM and Volunteer Child Advocate.  Kathie's reports and input have been so important for court preparation. Circuit 20 requests Kathie as Co-GAL to take on their most challenging cases.

Kathie found she has a heart for children, making sure that they are placed in permanent, safe, and loving homes. "It's not always easy to be patient while the wheels of the system turn and my kids languish in non-forever homes, but extremely satisfying when a case is closed to everyone's satisfaction."   Kathie spends her spare time with the GAL Program, Florida State Animal Response Coalition, Diva Angels Motorcycle group, her dog and travels when she is able (preferably to ride horses).

I am honored to have this extraordinary person who exemplifies real caring and dedication to our children.  Congratulations Kathie Minidis!

Child Advocacy Manager,
Melida Copeland

December Pinellas Child Advocates
Dan and Pam Pearch

December GAL of the Month is a "Two-Fer".  Dan and Pam Pearch are a husband/wife volunteer team who have been with Guardian ad Litem Program since March of 2018. Each of them carries a case individually and then they team up on a case of six children. They are extremely dedicated to their children and maintain close and positive relationships with case managers, caregivers, and parents even under the sad circumstances of TPR.   Dan's has patiently and persistently visited in person and by phone with a young teen boy who absolutely, positively does not want to talk to anyone related to his case. The child has run out of the building and out the door upon Dan's arrival. Dan has not been deterred for the almost 18 months he's been on the case.  

Pam's heart is on her sleeve for the children. She has tremendous empathy and ability to understand both the parents and the children's situations. Pam held the hand of an ill, homeless, and extremely intoxicated parent while she tried to come to grips of letting go of her beloved three year old so that child could have a future that the mother knew she could not provide.

Child Advocacy Manager,
Pam Smith

December Pasco Child Advocate
Beth Melton

Beth Melton has served as a Dade City VCA since February 2018. She currently works as a school administrator and teacher and has been involved working with children in social work and education for the past 25 years. Beth is in the process of seeking her Master's in Social Work degree from University of Central Florida and is completing her internship at the Dade City Guardian ad Litem office from August 2019 - August 2020. Upon completion of her MSW, Beth has an interest of serving her local community in the Dade City area in the field of child welfare. Beth has been a fantastic volunteer and intern. She is enthusiastic about learning and does wonderful research on current events and policies relating to foster care. We are lucky to have her!

Child Advocacy Manager,
Alyssa Bambard

January Pasco Child Advocate
Peggy Mitchell

Peggy Mitchell, Pasco County's January 2020 GAL of the Month,, stated in her final interview, "I want to help kids, " and that is exactly what she has done. Peggy's first case closed on December 10, 2019. When this case opened, the father was in jail, and the mother died one month after the case opened. Peggy was with the children to comfort them after they found out about their mother's death, and has been a stable force in their lives for the last year and a half. She attended IEP meetings at their school, and kept up with their medical needs through the children's recent eye surgeries. The father's rights were terminated and the foster placement has become an adoptive home.

Peggy was born in Jacksonville, Florida, the 6th child in a sibling group that totaled 12 children. She has 60 nieces and nephews. She said the positive part of a large family was that she was never alone, but with a family that large, she had to "assume a lot of responsibility at a young age." Her first job was in the computer industry and technology became her career choice. She married and had two children. She and her husband built a boat in their back yard, quit their jobs, sold their house, took the children and went sailing-for the next six months. Sadly, her husband passed away in 1992, and today she lives in Wesley Chapel with her daughter and grandson.

Before becoming a Guardian ad Litem, Peggy worked for IBM and today travels around the country as a project management instructor, and adds, "I'm very good at it."  Peggy sees that being a Guardian ad Litem is a way "to give back for all of the blessings I've had." The Dade City office is very glad Peggy decided to take the road that led to the Dade City Guardian Office. She has been a blessing to this office, to the children assigned to her, and to the 6th Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program.

Child Advocacy Manager,
Kristi Anson 
Volunteer Team Leader,
Jean McNary

For the Children

Bingo For Charity

Wednesday, April 22; 7:30 -10 PM
Hamburger Mary's
28910 US Hwy 19N, Clearwater
Come join us at Hamburger Mary's to eat, drink and be Mary...while raising funds to support children's needs in foster care! Bingo is $10 for 10 games and we will have great prizes. We will also have a 50/50 raffle -- so bring some cash and be ready for a super fun time! Reservations should be made in advance by calling 727-400-6996!

Foster to Foster is a  resource room located at Heritage United Methodist Church, 2680 Landmark Dr, Clearwater, FL 33761.  The free items are for children who are in the system, who are in foster care,  parental care, relative, or non relative placement.  The resource room includes
school supplies, back packs, school uniforms, new and  gently used clothing,toys, books and hygiene items. Hours are  Tuesday and Thursday from 9:30 AM-12:30 PM.  Foster Parents, Case  Managers, Child Protective Investigators and GAL Volunteers or Staff can  stop in and pick up needed items for the families they serve.  If questions, contact Kristin at 727-210-5227 or email  
Street Beat 

Congratulations Pinellas November class!

Self Care Tips  
Self Care has been a topic on people's minds a lot lately 
especially as we move into a new year. It can be challenging to 
care for ourselves but there are many tools out there to help people from Meditation apps to Yoga classes. Hearing the stories of our 
children and how much the foster care system both locally and 
overall is challenged, can take its toll on even the best advocates. 
We are privy to some of the saddest stories and this can affect us 
especially if we don't take time to take care of ourselves. We are 
all here because we ARE compassionate and want to help the 
families we work with but when that caring starts to affect us we 
cannot be effective in our advocacy efforts. Sometimes self -care 
is recognizing when we need to seek help from a professional 
such as a counselor or a therapist to help you with your feelings
about this sometimes heartbreaking work  we do. Talking with 
someone who is separate from the program  about how this work is affecting you  can help you recharge so you don't get  burned out. 
If you find this work starting to affect your  personal  well-being or you have had  something upsetting happen  on your  case, you can get up to six free counseling sessions  through our  Employee Assistance Program.  Your Child Advocate Manager can also provide additional information on this available service.   Here are some resources to help  you get started:

Transforming Compassion Fatigue into Compassion
Satisfaction: Top 12 Self-Care Tips for Helpers
By Françoise Mathieu, M.Ed., CCC., Compassion Fatigue Specialist-

Employee Assistance Program(for volunteers as well as employees of the State of Florida)
Counseling and Other Issues
844-208 7067

Submitted by,
Karen Malo, Pinellas Community Outreach Coordinator