Sixty Jackson County Guardian ad Litem/Court Named Special Advocates children and other children at home will be guaranteed a happy Christmas this year.
It’s thanks to American Bikers Aimed Toward Education Indiana Region 7 Jackson County in partnership to make it happen.
ABATE is a non-profit motorcycle safety, educational, charitable and advocacy organization dedicated to promoting safety, protecting rights and helping others.
For approximately 28 years, the local has collected donations to purchase gifts for Jackson Head Start County children and their families and received help from Santa to distribute them at a Christmas party.
The group’s annual Shari Stahl Memorial Toy Run, which began around 1990, is a big fundraiser for gifts, and chapter members spend a night shopping for age-appropriate gifts.
This year, ABATE connected to the GAL/CASA program and decided to help these children.
The volunteer-run program provides advocacy for child victims of abuse and neglect to ensure they stay at the forefront of legal proceedings and find a safe, permanent home as quickly as possible.
Primary sources of funding are the Jackson County Council and the Indiana Supreme Court, while additional funding sources include grants, private donations, private foundations, and fundraisers.
Autumn Gellhouse came to an ABATE meeting to talk about the program. Her father, Don Boling, serves as co-county representative for ABATE.
“We were talking and I asked her if she thought they would like us to donate money for them, so she got together with her boss, the wheels started moving and she came to one of our meetings,” Boling said. “She explained to us. She brought brochures. She does a hell of a job. »
Immediately, the chapter was happy to help.
“She didn’t even go home until the decision was made. When I called her and told her we were going to do it, she said, “You told me you had to vote”, and I said, “We did it. Everyone agreed,” Boling said.
“When her daughter came in and explained, kabam! We blew the roof off the ceiling where we were because we had something to help the kids,” said Darrell Crockett, security officer for the local ABATE chapter.
The group recently presented a check for $4,000 to Deena Personett, Jackson County GAL/CASA Program Manager, and Kate Garrity, Executive Director of Child Care Network, to spend on Christmas gifts for the some 100 children.
Personett said invitations were recently sent out to foster placements and their families, and these included a piece of paper to be returned listing each child’s age, gender, one want and one need. Once these are returned, CASA and ABATE members will purchase the gifts, then gather to wrap them on December 3.
Next week, at 1 p.m. on December 10, children and families are invited to a Christmas celebration at the new Child Care Network daycare center in downtown Seymour. Participants will have lunch before Santa Claus arrives with gifts for the children, and there will also be fun games and activities.
“We’ve always talked about wishing we could do something for the kids at Christmas,” Personett said. “Once in a while there may be regional activity going on or something like that, but those are few and far between. I explained to the band ABATE that this is something I wanted to do for 12 years, and they made this dream come true. We are very lucky that this group has presented itself to us.
Much of the recent donation came from the ABATE run in September.
“This wouldn’t have happened at all without our sponsors,” Boling said. “Just as CASA has dedicated people, we have dedicated sponsors. Especially when it comes to kids, they have their hands in their pockets and they’re just ready to give.
In the past, when ABATE went out and bought gifts, they only knew a child’s name and age and had no idea what they wanted. Group members are happy to know the needs and wants this time around.
“That’s the big plus. We will meet the needs of children,” Crockett said. “A lot of kids wouldn’t have had Christmas without us being able to help them do this, and that’s what it’s all about. It is a privilege to be able to share this with the children.
CASA serves children from 0 to 18 years old. Personett said that once they reach the age, they can participate in an optional program that will cover them until they are 22 years old.
“Right now we have a waiting list of volunteers waiting for kids to serve, which is amazing. About 12 years ago we had over 100 kids on the waiting list,” Personett said.
“When I started, we could only serve about 35-40 children who needed it. With additional funding, we were able to add staff and serve more children,” said Garrity.
A court-appointed special advocate is carefully trained, court-appointed, and supported by the program’s professional staff. The program engages, trains and empowers volunteers who make a difference by being there for a child in a very confusing and traumatic time, and they help judges make more informed decisions about what is best for the future of a kid.
A guardian ad litem is a lawyer or volunteer appointed by the court to represent the best interests of the child. A LAG who is not a lawyer must complete the same court-approved training required for a court-appointed special advocate.
Each child has one or two volunteers to represent him. This can be individuals, couples or friends working on cases.
“We’re always looking for new volunteers because you have volunteers leaving for various reasons, so we’re always open to new volunteers,” Personett said. “It’s a permanent need.”