By Libby Hopkins
Marilyn Garcia of Brandon has been raising her voice for more than 89,000 children who are in the foster care system. She is a volunteer recruiter for the Guardian ad Litem Program in Tampa. A Guardian ad Litem (GAL) is appointed by the court to advocate for a child. Most of these children have been removed from their homes because of alleged abuse, abandonment or neglect. The GAL becomes familiar with the child and the child’s case. They make recommendations to the court to help ensure a safe, caring, stable and permanent environment.
“Our goal is to see every child represented, and the way we do this is through our volunteers,” Garcia said. “We are not there yet.”
Garcia hopes to find more volunteers like Ed Vargus for GAL. Vargus has been volunteering for GAL for over 14 years. He recently celebrated his 80th birthday. Friends and some of the children he has mentored over the years surrounded him at his party.
“I wish I would have started earlier in life, like at 21, to volunteer as a guardian,” Vargus said.
Vargus got involved with GAL after reading an article in the Tampa Tribune about the program and their need for volunteers. Vargus is the father of 8 children, grandfather to 14 grandchildren and great-grandfather to three great-grandchildren.
“I have been around children my whole life, so that’s why I wanted to be a volunteer for program,” Vargus said. “I wanted to help.”
Being a volunteer for GAL for so long, Vargus has seen children from different backgrounds and situations. He said his goal has always been to try and keep the children with their parents and out of foster care.
“The main thing we try to do is get the children reunited with their parents, if their parents come around and be good parents. That’s our goal,” Vargus said.
Garcia hopes to find more volunteers like Vargus who are dedicated to being the voice for so many children who need help.
“He has touched the lives of over 20 kids in the system,” Garcia said. “He is still a friend and mentor to some of the children who have aged out of the system.”
Individuals interested in learning more about the Guardian ad Litem Program or how to get involved, visit www.galtampa.org or call Garcia at 498-9411.