Immediate Past President & Founding Board Member
It seems my life goes through a major life changing event every five to seven years and 2013 was no exception. Out of the blue, I found myself in a position imposed on me by the great unknown. Once again, I was alone, unsure of the direction life was taking me. All the stages of grief manifested themselves; shock and denial, pain and guilt, anger and bargaining, depression, reflection, loneliness, the upward turn, reconstruction and working through, then finally acceptance and hope.
When I eventually picked myself up from the puddle of tears on the floor, I asked myself, “Well, what now?” I knew I had to find something to bring back the meaning and purpose of my life. But what? I threw myself into preserving my personal sanity and financial security, creating a living environment that was new and of my own choosing, correcting the mistakes of the past while preserving the memories of what was good. But when that was done, it was still, “Well that’s done, now what?” Friends and family supported me throughout the process with encouragement and suggestions. The most often recommendation was volunteering. I looked at various opportunities but nothing really felt like the right fit. Then one day I remembered how my childhood and life was affected and influenced by the death of both my parents at an early age and all the trauma and drama that ensued. Where was home? Who was listening to me? Who to confide in? Who will help me? Right in front of me was the answer, the Guardian ad Litem Program.
As a young man, I had often said I would do something for children with experiences similar to mine but it never happened as I pursued my career. I confess, I originally looked at the GAL program in Palm Beach County but for some reason I was drawn to the program closer to home. I filled out an on-line application and a short while later Paula Kerr called me in for an interview. After only a few minutes with her I knew I had found a new home and purpose. Going through the training it became even more obvious to me that my own personal experiences were so in line with the GAL mission and goals. I could make a difference in the life of a child who was in many ways like the five year old me.
One early Spring day I suggested to Paula that we secure a table at the local Treasure Coast Pride Celebration. She and I made the arrangements and showed up at the Port St. Lucie Civic Center on a blistering hot April morning. We set up our little folding table and 2 lawn chairs while others put up their custom tents, banners and signs. We looked a bit home made but our message was a good fit and we meet many people. Some joined our ranks and went on to become stellar Guardians. While we melted in the noonday sun, Paula and I started talking about recruitment. She told me there was only a tiny budget for it and that a few years ago someone had tried to start a non-profit to support the GALP. Another bell went off in my sweltering head., “That’s what I did in my career at the City University of New York, let’s do it”. Within a few short weeks we were meeting with Patty Walker, interim Circuit Director, who got the ball rolling. Kip Lyman was there doting every “I” and crossing every “T”. Barry Scanlon was there securing a web domain and setting up bank accounts. The late Bette Hughes and the late Jackie Hull were there writing mission statements and operating documents. Gail Griffith was there sharing all her contacts. Valaree Huwe was there setting up the accounting books. and records. We resurrected the old non-profit corporation, elected a board, approved a mission statement and goals and objectives. We bankrolled, as best we could by ourselves, the newly named Voices For Children of Okeechobee and The Treasure Coast, Inc. and sent out the birth announcements.
Starting a non-profit is hard work and we all soon found out just how hard. Obtaining our 501(c)3 status from the IRS was a daunting, expensive and lengthy task.
Voices immediately was tasked with running the Holiday Gift drive. The support of the community was outstanding. I remember the room filled to overflowing with toys for our kids.
Thanks to the public relations efforts of media maven Jackie Holfelder we were on the six o’clock news and a full page article appeared in The Palm Beach Post. The rest is history…… a very good history. School supplies, holiday turkeys, beds, bikes, air conditioners and many other needs fulfilled soon followed.
Voices looked for every opportunity we could find to speak and present our message. I appeared at a Fort Pierce breakfast meeting and gave my elevator speech to a small group of local business men and women. Steve Hoskins, of Hoskins Turco, Llyod & Llyod followed me down the stairs as I left, and thus began the start of a great relationship with one of our biggest supporters. Over the last five years, Voices has never turned down a request for help from our Child Advocacy Managers or from our dedicated Guardians, thanks to the generosity of our community of supporters.
The Board went through changes and comings and goings. Alex Scanlon brought a fresh young perspective. Sanda Gerhki brought in TD Bank. Toyan Hall Scott brought in BB&T Bank. Mark Godwin broadened our contact base within the Juvenile Justice System. The great Vern Melvin arrived on the scene and held us all together. He single handily arranged for the Jury Duty Donations Voices receives monthly from each county, accounting for one of our greatest sources of funding. So many others have stepped up to help so many times, I must personally thank; Paul Nigro, Roberta Katz, Camille Frazier, Gary Bokas, Nicole Hughes and everyone of our staff at the GALP offices, our friends at Thrivent Financial, my dear friend Bonnie Becker of FSBI Realty, Linda Hartley-Urban of The Shoppes at Harbour Bay Plaza, my Hobe Sound Neighbors and The Women’s Club of The Retreat at Seabranch, Kathleen Charboneau and The Women’s Golf Association at Meadowood Golf & Tennis Club. Robin Singerman Delgado for literally carrying 300 chairs in and out of her truck for our “All You Need Is Love” Fashion Show, Al and Ingrid Hazen, who are always at the ready to do whatever is required. And yes, even my dearest, loving Paul Kelly of Black Stage Design who has graciously designed our logo and other graphics and who has remained a constant source of support and encouragement. In reality, I may never have found the GALP and Voices without him. Oh, the mysterious ways of the Lord…..We’re good, Paul.
A new day dawned for Voices when I realized I had taken it as far as I could. With the appointment of Bob Perry as our new President, everything I had ever hoped Voices could be is becoming a reality. Bob has infused new life into the Board with the addition of Gary Tenpas , Howard Rothman, CPA, Terrance Channon and Donna Demarchi, Esq. I am honored to work along side all of them. We will take Voices to new heights in pursuit of our goal and mission to ensure a safe, permanent home for all the children we represent. We will also continue our support of the GALP in recruitment, retention and recognition.
Great things are on the horizon. Kip Lyman is back with a vengeance chairing our first annual gala, “The Ultimate Tailgate Party”. She has broadened our corporate support with a host of new sponsors who look like they are in it for the long haul. We have a new invigorated presence on-line with social media and a new website. Our financial reporting is par excellence!
Five years is a long time for any charity to survive. I am so proud and honored to know all of you. I thank you for your trust in me, your time, your dedication, your contributions, your guidance and wisdom, your creativity and spirit. I never imagined this is where I would be five years ago. You have all made the journey a pleasure and now I know, I’m home.