Tibet, Florida’s first courthouse facility dog was recently featured on the Tampa Bay Times.Click here to read the full story by Paul Guzzo.
TAMPA, Fla. (Oct. 10, 2017) — A trauma-sensitive interview room for abused, abandoned and neglected children will be officially opened at the Guardian ad Litem office in downtown Tampa this month. The room will be available to GAL program partners such as the State Attorney, the Attorney General, Public Defenders, and other community agencies who serve children in the Hillsborough dependency court system. It was created through the efforts of a Yale Alumni group, and a ribbon-cutting ceremony will take place on October 17, 2017 from 4 to 6pm.
Voices for Children (VFC) is the non-profit partner of the GAL program and the sponsors of Florida’s first courthouse facility dog, Tibet. Last fall, a documentary about Tibet was produced by HCP Associates and premiered at the 2017 Gasparilla International Film Festival, the film was also a Silver and Bronze winner in the 38th Annual Telly Awards. A group of Yale Alumni viewed the film and in another aspect of community collaboration, decided their Yale Day of Service project should benefit the children who have worked with Tibet. Tibet’s handler and GAL Volunteer, Brenda Kocher, explains how it came together. “Tibet and I work with children in the foster care system on trial preparation, depositions, and forensic interviewing on a regular basis, but we needed more trauma-sensitive spaces to use when talking with them,” she says. “After I researched guidelines from the National Children’s Alliance for forensic interview spaces, the Yale alums contributed money, time and labor to convert one of the rooms at the GAL office. With a limited budget in hand, Rooms To Go was approached for help furnishing the room. Richard Miller, VP of Operations and Planning with Rooms To Go, quickly opened his heart and store. “Although I went to Harvard,” Miller stated, “I wanted to us to work with the Yale club to do some good for the community.”
Guardian ad Litem and Voices for Children would like to thank Richard Miller and Rooms To Go and the Yale alumni who made this project possible: Judith (Judy) Bryant, PhD, developmental psychologist at USF ; Dana Daly, MD, Pediatric Associates of Ocala; Anne P. Eason, PhD psychologist in independent practice; and Jerome (Jerry) Yankowitz, MD, Chair of the USF OB/GYN Department. Tabitha Lambert, Circuit Director for the Hillsborough GAL office said, “There are over 3,600 children in our foster care system, more than anywhere else in Florida. We are grateful for the efforts of these generous individuals and the space which will now benefit so many of our children!”
For more information about volunteering as a GAL child advocate, call (813) 272-5110 or visit www.galtampa.org.
About Guardian ad Litem (GAL)
The Florida Guardian ad Litem Program is a partnership of community advocates and professional staff providing a powerful voice on behalf of Florida’s abused, abandoned and neglected children.
TAMPA, Fla. (Sept. 15, 2017) After a successful debut earlier this year at the Gasparilla International Film Festival, the documentary centered around Florida’s first Courthouse Facility Dog has officially been accepted into the 2017 Orlando Film Festival and the Sunscreen Film Festival West in Hermosa Beach, CA.
The “Dogumentary” tells the story of how Guardian ad Litem (GAL) volunteers, former Voices for Children of Tampa Bay Director Betsy Smith and GAL volunteer Brenda Kocher were able to bring the Courthouse Facility Dog Program and the film’s star, Tibet, to the Hillsborough County 13th Judicial Circuit in Tampa, Florida.
Tibet provides emotional support for the abused, neglected and abandoned children who are facing the dependency court system during stressful and difficult proceedings.
Tibet was the first facility dog staffed in the state. Thousands of children have to testify without any support.
With the success of the program which began in 2014, they hope to expand and bring more facility dogs to courthouses around the state.
The silver and gold Telly-award winning documentary “Tibet: The Story of Florida’s First Courthouse Facility Dog” was produced by HCP Associate’s production company, Gulf Atlantic Films (www.gafilms.com).
The Orlando Film Festival runs October 19-26 in Downtown Orlando’s Cobb Plaza Cinema Café. For more information visit www.orlandofilmfest.com.
The Sunscreen Film Festival West runs October 6-8 at the Hermosa Beach Community Theatre in Hermosa Beach, CA. For more information visit www.ssffwest.com.
To learn more about Voices for Children and Guardian ad Litem, please visit www.vfcgal.org or call (813) 275-9300.
TAMPA, Fla. (June 19, 2017) — HCP Associates was selected by Guardian ad Litem (GAL) to produce a new PSA for the “I am for the child” campaign; an effort in Hillsborough County and across the state to raise awareness of the need for more child advocates.
Tony and Lauren Dungy teamed up with the GAL program to recruit those who will speak up for children in foster care. The Dungys believe all children need a safe and loving environment and so they became foster parents many years ago. They hope to get the attention of adults who will be there to protect the best interests of these kids. “Children in foster care need a voice,” said Lauren. “A GAL makes a difference for these children every day.”
Tabitha Lambert, Circuit Director for the Hillsborough GAL office said, “There are over 3,600 abused, abandoned and neglected children in our foster care system, more than anywhere else in Florida. About half of these children currently face the dependency court system alone. Having Tony and Lauren help us spread the word will be an enormous boost for our mission of attracting more volunteers. We are very grateful for their efforts on behalf of our kids!”
According to Guardian ad Litem, it only takes 10-12 hours per month to volunteer. Often a GAL is the one consistent adult in a foster child’s life. Children paired with a GAL volunteer are more likely to perform better in school, receive more services, and even find a forever family more quickly.
“The impact can last a lifetime,” said Tony. “To make a difference in a child’s life could not be more rewarding.”
The PSA will be released over the next few months through social media and regional broadcast partners.
CLICK HERE to view the entire PSA.
We are so excited to announce that Ken and Dot Conklin have received the well-deserved Lightning Community Hero Award for all of their dedication and hard work to the Guardian ad Litem Program in Hillsborough County. We can’t thank them enough for making a huge impact in our community!
On Tuesday January 3rd, Ken and Dot accepted this great honor at Amalie Arena, home to the Tampa Bay Lightning. They were able to celebrate with their family and take in a game. Thank you for making a difference and being a voice. True heroes indeed!
Tampa, Fla. (Tuesday, October 18, 2016) – The 13th Judicial Circuit Court’s facility dog, Tibet, walked down the red carpet with her handler Brenda Kocher for the premiere of her new dogumentary (documentary) film at the Tampa Theatre.
The “Dogumentary” tells the story of how former Voices for Children of Tampa Bay Director Betsy Smith and Guardian ad Litem (GAL) volunteer and handler Brenda Kocher were able to bring the Courthouse Facility Dog Program and the film’s star, Tibet, to the Hillsborough County 13th Judicial Circuit. With the success of the program, which began in 2014, they hope to expand and bring more facility dogs to courthouses around the state of Florida.
“Many of the films interview subjects are here in attendance,” said Ronna Kennedy, Executive Director of Voices for Children of Tampa Bay as the lobby of the historic theatre buzzed with excitement and conversations before the premiere. “Judges, attorneys and volunteers were among the many interviewed to bring this piece together and it is an honor to work with such passionate people who are making a difference in the lives of our children in need.”
Tibet is the first courthouse facility dog staffed in the state of Florida, yet there are over 30,000 children in the state of Florida’s dependency court system, with the majority having to testify without any support.
Judge Katherine G. Essrig from Florida’s 13th Judicial Circuit said, “Tibet really is a miracle worker! When I have a case involving a child who has been the victim of a traumatic event and he or she walks into the courtroom – often that child is carrying Tibet’s’ leash.”
Essrig has served on the bench for 26 years and was one of the earliest supporters for bringing the program to the 13th Judicial Circuit Court. She spoke before the premiere of the film talking about her experience with testifying in court as a legal professional, and seeing children struggling to testify.
Brenda Kocher, Tibet’s Handler said, “I believe that VFC and GAL have set the bar in the state of Florida for other non-profits and other programs to provide this invaluable service to children.”
Both Kennedy and Kocher also spoke about their hopes to expand the program across the state of Florida after the film screening with Tibet by their side.
Tibet and Kocher volunteer full-time every week, yet with over 1,300 children in Hillsborough County who have to face the dependency court system, there is still much work left to do.
To help fund some of the cost, supporters are able to purchase a stuffed Tibet doll. When one is purchased, a matching Tibet doll is given to a child in the dependency court.
To learn more about how you can support the Voices for Children’s Courthouse Dog Program in Hillsborough county visit vfcgal.org/tibet or contact the Voices for Children office at (813) 275-9300.
Thanks to Alan Abramowitz, Executive Director of the Florida Guardian ad Litem Office, who announced Voices for Children of Tampa Bay as this year’s winner of the Non-Profit Organization of the Year award. The Non-Profit Organization of the Year award is given to a 501(c)3 organization who consistently assists the Florida GAL Program in all aspects of advocacy, fundraising, and support for the benefit of the GAL Program’s mission and the children the GAL Program serves. Voices for Children of Tampa Bay has been an integral partner with the 13th Circuit GAL Program and exceeded expectations in fundraising and in supporting GAL volunteers.
Read the full release here: Non-Profit of the Year