Saturday, April 21, 2018
News Roundup

Wanted! in Hernando and Pasco: Guardian ad Litem volunteers

We need an army of volunteers.

That's what I thought recently as I helped judge for the 2014 Hernando County Teacher of the Year.

One candidate after another talked about students who have nobody to check homework or read notes from teachers, nobody to cook for them or make sure they get a decent night's sleep.

They tend to come from struggling families, of course, which made me think of that old euphemism for poor — disadvantaged — and how apt it really is.

What chance do these kids have compared to ones from loving middle-class homes?

Not much of one at all.

The unfairness of it could make you crazy or, hopefully, make you want to help.

And coincidentally, I heard about a perfect opportunity last week from Lynn Sennett, a recruiter for the Florida Guardian ad Litem Program.

She doesn't have an army of volunteers; she barely has a couple of platoons — 85 guardians in Hernando County to cover a caseload of 366 children.

"I don't know what it is about Hernando, but we always have trouble attracting volunteers there," said Sennett, whose judicial circuit also covers Citrus, Lake, Sumter and Marion counties.

In Pasco, which is in another district, "We're in kind of the same situation," said recruiter John Zucker.

Of the roughly 1,000 children in the court's protection, only about half have a guardian ad litem.

I hope this shortage isn't about the character of our community. I hope it's just about a lack of awareness — that not enough people know about the program and how much it helps kids who have been removed from families due to abuse or neglect.

If so, here is how it works:

Guardians are independent advocates for children in court. They have no ties to one particular family member, no financial interest in the cases.

They can view medical and school records. They check on neglectful families to see if houses are clean and if parents are complying with, for example, court-ordered drug abuse counseling.

They visit foster homes and make sure the children's case managers are doing their jobs. They tell the court if the kids need to see a dentist or doctor.

Many of them even meet with teachers and help children with homework.

And when children get shuttled between multiple foster homes and schools, Sennett said, "Our volunteers are often the only constant in their lives."

The program fills gaps in the lives of these children and, it turns out, in the lives of the volunteers.

"It's the most rewarding job I've ever had," said Cheryl McCormick, a veteran guardian from Hernando.

That's no surprise, really. When you realize the depth of the problem, and the opportunity this program offers for us to help address it, I can't imagine why anyone with the time and energy would not want to volunteer.

If you're interested, there's a training program scheduled in Brooksville on March 4. To learn more, call toll-free 1-866-341-1425 or visit the program's website, guardianadlitem.org.

And if you're on the fence about volunteering, think about those old military recruiting posters.

Substitute the stern face of Uncle Sam with the dejected face of an abandoned child.

And replace the word "wants" with "needs."

Comments
Live blog: Lightning aims to eliminate Devils in Game 5

Live blog: Lightning aims to eliminate Devils in Game 5

Follow our live coverage of the opening-round NHL playoff series between the Lightning and New Jersey Devils. Times reporters, editors, sports columnists and photo journalists will chronicle the action on and off the ice through updates, analysis, ph...
Updated: 2 minutes ago
For starters: Rays vs. Twins, with a familiar look

For starters: Rays vs. Twins, with a familiar look

UPDATE, 4:17: CF Kevin Kiermaier was back at the Trop, and at one point on the field with a glove on his left hand and protective wrapping on his right, the day after surgery to repair a torn UCL in his right thumb. He said the surgery went "as good ...
Updated: 10 minutes ago
Rays will go forth with Chirinos as fourth starter

Rays will go forth with Chirinos as fourth starter

The Rays have made it official – or as official as things can be with them – in naming RHP Yonny Chirinos as the fourth starter in their rotation.The Rays had been using three, and two "Bullpen Day" slots when playing five straight days.B...
Updated: 16 minutes ago
Man, 20, arrested in killing of Durant High football player

Man, 20, arrested in killing of Durant High football player

Deputies arrested a man late Friday they say shot and killed Durant High School football player Grover Wills.Samuel Morrissey Jr., 20, was being held without bail Saturday at the Hillsborough County jail and faces a second-degree murder charge, accor...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Cops used dead man's finger in attempt to unlock his phone

Cops used dead man's finger in attempt to unlock his phone

Most people agree what the Largo detectives did at the funeral home was legal. What they diverge on is whether it was appropriate.
Updated: 3 hours ago
A Florida school shooting suspect charged with terrorism says ‘sorry’ to injured student

A Florida school shooting suspect charged with terrorism says ‘sorry’ to injured student

The young man in a white jail jumpsuit, handcuffed and shackled, looked past the throng of reporters pointing microphones toward his face, barely opening his mouth as he answered questions."I shot through the door," he said, looking at a female repor...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Man who attacked woman and stole her shorts arrested, deputies say

Man who attacked woman and stole her shorts arrested, deputies say

Deputies arrested a man they said tackled a woman in February and removed her shorts before fleeing.Robert Mark Hembree Jr., 31, was arrested late Friday. He faces charges of sexual battery and petit theft.PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Detectives seek man who a...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Romano: Okay, now who sounds like a hysterical teen talking about guns?

Romano: Okay, now who sounds like a hysterical teen talking about guns?

The writer of the letter sounds hysterical. Perhaps a little desperate. And maybe that’s just who Marion Hammer is these days.Most of the world knows her as the take-no-prisoners maven of the National Rifle Association who directs Florida politicians...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Dade City man killed in early morning hit-and-run, police say

Dade City man killed in early morning hit-and-run, police say

A Pasco County man was struck and killed in an apparent hit-and-run early Saturday, police said.Thomas Michael Burdeshaw, 53, who lived on Sundance Drive in Dade City, was hit about 1:45 a.m. on the 36000 block of Blanton Road, police said.Witnesses ...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Some people are paying for cuddles. And it’s not what you might think.

Some people are paying for cuddles. And it’s not what you might think.

When Samantha Hess’s marriage ended five years ago, she felt she was lacking a basic human need: Physical touch. As a woman in her late 20s living in Portland, Oregon, she found plenty of men interested in dating, but sexual contact was not what she ...
Updated: 6 hours ago