The Guardian Ad Litem Program of District 11 serving Harnett, Johnston, and Lee counties recently enjoyed a great night of celebration and recognition of April as Guardian ad Litem Advocate Appreciation Month and Child Abuse Prevention Month. The event was held in Clayton.
Students from across the Johnston County School system submitted artwork focused on the theme of “What Makes You Feel Safe and Happy?” The artwork has been on display most of April at the Johnston Health Smithfield and Johnston Health Clayton campuses and will remain on display at the Johnston Health Clayton campus until the end of May. The event recognizes the artists and their families who participated in the art show, as well as the Guardian ad Litem Child Advocates who voluntarily give of their time and talents to advocate for abused and neglected children in the court system.
After browsing through the art displays and enjoying a delicious selection of pick up foods provided by “Café 42” at Johnston Health Clayton, each advocate was presented with a certificate listing the number of years of service each has donated to the program. Quite a few advocates were accompanied by family members and friends who came to participate in the recognition event.
A highlight of the evening was the presentation of the first annual Melannie Taylor Gunter Guardian ad Litem Advocate of the Year award. The award was presented to honor the memory of a tireless and committed Johnston County GAL Melannie Gunter, who passed away in February of this year. The award will be awarded annually to recognize Guardian ad Litem Advocates who model Melannie’s staunch commitment to being a voice for children.
Wanda Sexton, who has been with the program since 2014, was this year’s recipient. Wanda’s dedication to the children in the program is steadfast and the passion she feels for her GAL work is obvious in all that she does on behalf of the children she serves. After receiving the award Wanda said “My life has been changed forever by volunteering in the Guardian ad Litem program. To see a child’s face light up when they see you because they know you care about them, to see families reunified, to see a child placed in a forever home, all of these things are so rewarding. Being a GAL is one of the hardest & most rewarding things I have ever done.”
Wanda and Melannie were close friends and Wanda agreed to be co-appointed to Melannie’s cases to ensure the children were covered as Melannie continued to battle her series of health issues. Since Melannie’s death, Wanda has continued to serve as GAL for all of Melannie’s cases, to make sure each child’s voice is heard. Referring to her friendship with Melannie, Wanda said, “We always called them “our kids” because they are more than just “cases”, they are children who desperately need someone to love & advocate for them.”
The event would not have been possible without the tireless efforts of Mandy McNulty, a current Guardian ad Litem Advocate. Mandy’s talents and skill set were critical in the coordination and success of the event.
Allison Delong, District Administrator for the District 11 Guardian ad Litem Program takes pride in recognizing GAL Advocates for their service and is most appreciative of all GAL Advocates in the district as she is aware of the life-changing work these advocates pour into the children served by District 11.
The District 11 GAL Program, serving Lee, Harnett and Johnston Counties, is part of the North Carolina Guardian ad Litem Program, a division of the North Carolina Judicial Branch, Administrative Office of the Courts, which recruits, trains, and supervises volunteer advocates in every county across the state to represent and promote the best interests of abused, neglected, and dependent children in the state court system. Volunteer advocates work with an attorney to form a plan that ensures these children are placed in a safe, permanent home.
The North Carolina Guardian ad Litem Program thrives on volunteerism, and its vital work is only made possible by dedicated volunteers who are committed to the cause of keeping children safe from future harm. If you have an interest in becoming the voice for a child, contact the Johnston County GAL office at 919-934-3348. You can also find out more about the program by visiting https://www.volunteerforgal.org or www.facebook.com/districtelevengal.