GAL Volunteer out of the Walton County Office
When I initially asked Donna if I could interview her for this piece, she modestly stated that she wasn’t one for the spotlight but would participate if it would “help the children.” That type of laser focus unencumbered by any sort of self-importance has led Donna to over eight years of serving as a volunteer child advocate, helping 38 children directly as their Guardian ad Litem and one year serving on our foundation’s board.
What led her to decide to become a Guardian ad Litem Volunteer?
Donna’s story is one of extreme physical, sexual, and emotional abuse for most of her childhood and young adult life in which she wasn’t believed nor truly helped. Her mom was committed when she was a small child and she went on to experience a torturous life at the hands of her step family. She ended up living in many different relatives’ homes and eventually ran away to live in a treehouse in the woods when she was 13 to escape the horrors she was undergoing. When she was 15, she got married to an already married man (her father got it annulled after 6 months) then she moved in with a very abusive man at age 17 (who became her common law husband). After years of trying to survive, she finally sought the help of a therapist. For two years, she would tell her husband she was going to Weight Watchers; a story he greatly encouraged as he regularly called her a fat cow. One day her husband started going after their young son and something clicked in her. She went into a room, packed a diaper bag full of everything she could fit inside of it and told her husband she was bringing her son out to visit someone.
This was her turning point, this was the place in the heroine’s journey when she said “That. Is. It.”
After that point, she went on to build a life for her and her son and eventually married a loving, caring man who she has been with for over 26 years. When she thought of all she had been through and how nobody believed or helped her, she decided that she would use her experience and passion to be a tireless advocate for those little ones whose shoes she once walked in. To date she has been a Volunteer Guardian ad Litem for 38 children and except for a couple, she has stayed in the lives of all of them after their time with the program.
What keeps her volunteering?
She wants to help as many kids as she can and that is while they are in the program and afterward as well. For many of her kids, they aged out of the system without a forever home. Many of these new adults have come to consider Donna as what I refer to as one’s 3-am-phone-call-person. Donna has been there for them when they have had babies and when they have lost someone and when they were having a panic attack in the middle of the night and needed someone to help ground them. When it comes down to it, Donna’s mission to help vulnerable children is in her marrow and motivates her every day.
What advice would she give a new advocate?
Keeping objectivity is essential. Various people will create relationships and attempt to manipulate the Guardian ad Litem for their own benefit. We must keep the child’s best interest in the forefront of our mind and let that guide all of our actions.