Angie Matthiessen

Angie Matthiessen

When Sarah was 8 years old, her mother’s parental rights were terminated.

At the time, this was in Sarah’s best interest, as mom was unable to meet the requirements of the family court system to provide a safe and stable home for her young daughter.

Foster care proved to have its own challenges for Sarah, not the least of these being a total of 19 placements in the six years following her entrance into the system. That means there were 19 times that Sarah had to pack her belongings and start over with a new family.

“When you look at a child in the dependency system, there’s so much upheaval,” said Jessica Stanfield, executive director of the Guardian ad Litem Foundation, 20th Judicial Circuit.

The GAL Foundation uses trained volunteers to advocate for the best interests of the children they are appointed to in the dependency system, including a focus on advocating for permanency. Permanency could look like reunification, adoption or even another case-specific option that allows the child a permanent family to call their own.

For Sarah, now 14 years old, mom has taken steps to get her life back on track and is proving to be the best option for permanency for Sarah. Sarah’s GAL has been a support for her for these past six years and is helping with the process of reunification as mom is now putting in the work that she wasn’t able to six years ago.

Mom no longer lives in Florida but welcomes the opportunity to begin reestablishing her relationship with her daughter, including a Christmas visit. This trip will possibly include mixed emotions for Sarah. It might include hot chocolate and snow. But it undoubtedly includes a hefty price for a peak season plane ticket.

The GAL Foundation is covering the cost of the flight for Sarah to take this initial step toward finally having a permanent home.

“Hundreds of children in Charlotte County are facing a holiday season unlike any they have experienced before,” Stanfield said.

She added many of these children may wake up on Christmas morning in a new foster home, surrounded by new people.

“They may long for the feeling of being ‘home for the holidays’ after being removed from the home they were used to,” she said.

To gather gift donations for the holidays, the GAL Foundation has tree tags for the children they serve and accepts financial contributions year-round to fill needs for these same children. Tree tags are available at Charlotte State Bank locations (Murdock, North Port, Parkside and Peachland) and the Yoga Sanctuary in Punta Gorda. A list of specific toys and other gift ideas are available at www.unitedwayccfl.org/christmas-giving. Gift cards are also encouraged (Visa, Walmart, Target and Starbucks).

As you do your holiday shopping, consider picking up something extra to drop off at the GAL Foundation’s Charlotte County office (Grace Street Annex, 514 Grace St., Punta Gorda). Reach out to Lead Elf Tracy Trotter to schedule your drop-off by calling 941-613-3233, then selecting option 3.

Children living in a foster home or even in relative- or non-relative care may not have the opportunity to experience the holiday traditions that you and I perhaps take for granted.

“Thanks to the generosity of our community partners and friends, we can all help to make this season a bit more magical for children who need it most,” Stanfield said.

If we share a little of the joy of the holidays with them by playing Santa (without the red suit), we can experience a little extra joy ourselves, knowing we helped to bring a child a little hope for the holidays.

For more information about United Way of Charlotte County’s mission: Mobilizing the power of our community to break the cycle of poverty, please contact Angie Matthiessen, executive director. She can be reached at director@unitedwayccfl.org.

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