In Retirement, Finding a Different Type of Purpose
Like all who arrive at retirement's gate, I was handed a blank slate on which to design a new life and quickly learned that the freedom which comes with having more time than responsibility can be sobering and intimidating. Questions abounded. What should be the goal of retirement? How would mine look in hindsight? Could I live it with fulfillment rather than regret? What shiny new purpose would replace the pursuit of security?
I found my different type of purpose by more closely examining what has long been my greatest conviction, and then acting on it. And that conviction is this: all children arrive in this world innocent and blameless, dependent, precious, and deserving of love, encouragement, and opportunity. Not some, all. But all are not so fortunate, are they?
I was one of the lucky ones, born to parents who wanted me, loved me unconditionally, exalted and reveled in my achievements, and did everything they could, without envy, to encourage my success. Would they have sacrificed their lives for me? I am quite certain they would. And I am profoundly humbled to know that I have never known even one moment when I was left to wonder whether anyone out there really cared. But again, it didn't have to be that way and all too often, it isn't.
It's been said that for a child, feeling unloved is worse than monsters under the bed, and that for any of us raised in a loving, stable home the concept of a child needing someone other than his or her parents to speak for them is almost incomprehensible. Yet practically every day here in Florida, another child or sibling group is added to the more than 29,000 already removed from their parents for their own protection and placed under the supervision of the Department of Children and Families. And what's worse, whether they've suffered abuse, abandonment, or neglect, is that when the monsters under the bed are their own parents, these kids feel that it is they, and not their parents, who are at fault. Ouch.
The Guardian ad Litem Program was started by a judge who saw that all parties in his courtroom had an advocate or a voice except the one most innocent, yet most affected by the outcome - the child. Today in our four-county judicial circuit, there are over 300 Guardians protecting the interests of over 800 children. Sadly, another 300 kids are still in immediate need of someone who will stand up for them. It is often the volunteer Guardian's voice that resonates most loudly with the presiding judge.
These cases require no special education other than the 30 hours of certification training provided by the program, plus about 10-15 hours per month for a typical case. But with that and a compassionate heart, congratulations, you qualify. The success stories are legion; the rewards can be extraordinary.
Somewhere out there, today, is a child who has perhaps never been to a doctor or dentist, who has been placed, afraid, in unfamiliar surroundings, who has almost given up academically, or who has no one to make that critical difference in their young life. And while none of us can change the world, we can all change the world of one child. It's happening every day.
The Guardian ad Litem office, in Port St. Lucie, can be reached at 772-785-5804. A request for more information is taken as just that, not as a commitment. But as one former victim - and now herself a Guardian - put it, “If you’re thinking about doing it – do it. If you have the time that you can put into being a child's guardian ad litem, do it. Because you have the opportunity to dramatically change a child’s life. You can change the path of a child’s life." She should know.
Bob Perry, Guardian ad Litem