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Giving back Giving Children a Voice by Mary Ann DeSantis When Ronald Smith was in sixth grade, he became a foster child. He believes he was one of the lucky ones because so many people cared about him, especially his Guardian ad Litem and mentor. “I’ve seen firsthand what the Guardian ad Litem program can do,” the now 21-year-old says. “It changed not only my life, but my outlook.” Smith recently spoke at a gala honoring Voices For Children Foundation, Inc., the fundraising organization for the 11th Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem program. His moving testimony inspired many guests to “Be a Voice” for children whose lives are often in crisis. Guardian ad Litem (GAL) volunteers represent the interests of abused, abandoned and neglected children in dependency court proceedings. Public funding, however, is inadequate to meet the needs of the more than 3,200 children in the Miami-Dade foster care system. Currently, only 61 percent have GAL representation. “In 1984, three judges were moved by the vulnerability of children in the courtroom, and they felt compelled to start a nonprofit to fill the gap in funding for the GAL program,” explains Valerie Nucete, Communications Manager of Voices For Children. “Our goal is to make sure every child in the Miami-Dade foster care system has a volunteer GAL.” The Voices For Children Foundation goes beyond fundraising for Miami’s GAL program — it provides resources for children’s health, education and social needs. Community members are encouraged to join the organization’s Angel Society by making financial contributions or volunteering their professional expertise. Actor Christian Slater, who lives in Miami, and his fiancée Brittany Lopez serve on the Voices for Children Board of Directors and were honorary co-chairs for the gala that raised more than $550,000. “You hear the stories in the news all the time about the horrid abuse … but rarely do you hear the stories from the children themselves. And even more rare, do you hear how a child’s entire life can take a turn for the better because of one caring individual that they met in their darkest hour,” Slater explained to gala guests. Ronald Smith, now an employee of the Miami-Dade County Attorney’s Office and a paralegal student at Miami-Dade College, is a living example of what giving back can do. “You hear the stories in the news all the time about the horrid abuse … but rarely do you hear the stories from the children themselves...” explained Christian Slater to gala guests. “I’ve been blessed and I would be doing a huge disservice to the world if I didn’t pass my blessings to someone else,” he says. “Harriet Tubman wasn’t famous because she escaped slavery. Thousands escaped, but Harriet wasn’t satisfied with just escaping, so she took others along for the ride. I believe that is true character.” To learn more about Voices For Children, visit BeAVoice.org or call 305.324.5678. 100 may/june 2013 southfloridaluxuryguide.com


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