A Light In The Darkness: The Lewis County Guardian ad Litems

The girl was twelve years old when she ran away from home. She missed her daddy and how safe and loved she felt back when he was alive. She was his princess and his whole world revolved around his baby girl. When he died, the protective custody he filed against her mother died with him and the girl was sent to live with her.

The Wonderful faces at the Guardian ad Litem office in Lewis County. Left to Right: Yolinda Hipp, Janeal Woodruff, Angel Cothern and Susan Wickert. Photo credit: Nichole Davis.

After eight years with her mother, the girl was now malnourished, flea-bitten and alone. She fled the house filled with animal waste and no running water. Swallowing her fear of the unknown, she ventured out of the darkness in search of the light.

Joleen Roy’s eyes welled up with tears as she told me the story of the day her granddaughter ran away from home. When she thinks about everything her granddaughter went through, her heart fills with grief – but that grief comes with a determination. Joleen now devotes her life to helping abused and neglected children here in Lewis County as a Gaurdian ad Litem. “As a GAL, I try to see each of the kids on my cases as my own grandkids,” she told me. “I love every one of my kids and nothing will ever happen to them on my watch. I am now able to help someone else’s grandchildren in ways I wasn’t able to help my own.”

Lewis County Guardian ad Litems volunteer their time and work to serve our community’s foster children. They are the voice of the children in our courtrooms. Their job is to get to know the children and their cases, and work with social workers, families, foster homes and parents. They evaluate risks, strengths, potential and concerns in each of their cases. They make a report to the court on how the case is progressing and suggest ways the court can assist families in reunification. “We are the guardian angels for these kids,” Joleen says.

Being a Guardian ad Litem comes with what Joleen calls a “healthy fear”. When she started, she wrestled with fears of report writing, testifying in court and visiting the homes of parents who may not be happy to see her. “The longer I did it, the easier it got,” she says. “The supervisors and staff we have here at the GAL office are so supportive and helped me each step of the way.” The training and certification process is informative and specially designed to prepare GAL’s for their role.

Jolene and the other Guardian ad Litems are powerful forces for good in Lewis County. Joleen loves this photo of herself taken by her friend Connie. Photo courtesy: Jolene Roy.

Joleen was also afraid of heartbreak if cases she worked on didn’t get the outcome she advocated. “I learned that my job isn’t to fix people,” she says. “My job is to be a voice for my kids. It’s a small part but it’s an important part.” Guardian ad Litems provide stability for a child when they need it most. When their entire world is turned upside down with trauma, children need someone to be their voice in a room full of adults making decisions about their future.

“It really is an honor for me to speak for these children,” Joleen told me. “Our Commissioner really listens to the Guardian ad Litems and takes our reports into consideration when she makes her rulings. I know I’m making a difference in the lives of my kids.”

Joleen wants you to know, “It takes a village and anything you can contribute makes the load lighter for these kids. If I can overcome my fears and do this, anyone can. I’m 72 years old so you can do this at any age.”

There really is something for everyone who wants to be involved. Guardian ad Litems are legally not allowed to give the children on their cases gifts or help parents in any monetary way so the Guardian Friends program plays a special role in helping foster kids in our community. Guardian Friends helps foster kids pay for things like camps, sports equipment, swim lessons, band uniforms and anything else they need beyond their basic care. They are always accepting donations for what Joleen calls “love gifts” to make foster kids feel special and valued.

Jolene’s granddaughter today. Photo credit: Jolene Roy.

Joleen’s granddaughter is now happy, healthy and grown. When her aunt and uncle petitioned the court for custody of her, a voice was heard in the courtroom. It was the voice of a child coming out of the darkness to find the light. She will graduate from college this year with a very proud grandma who fights every day to be the light for kids just like her.

Lewis County needs more people like Joleen who want to make a difference in our community. The Guardian ad Litems that volunteer to serve our foster kids are heroes. They speak for those who have no voice and they are a light for children surrounded by darkness. You can join this band of guardians or lighten their burden by following the links above. There’s a child here in Lewis County waiting for you to turn on the light.

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