Ashley Rhodes-Courter is the author of two books on the New York Times bestseller list, “Three Little Words” and “Three More Words”. The books tell the story of her childhood in Tampa’s foster care system, her ultimate adoption, and her efforts to make peace with her past. Ashley was invited to speak at Shorecrest Preparatory School, where my DD2 is a senior, about child welfare issues and court appointed child advocates.
“No kid should have to spend ten years in foster care,” a video clip of a teenage Ashley Rhodes-Courter proclaimed to an audience in the Janet Root Theatre at Shorecrest Preparatory School on November 30, 2015.
Why would a school bring in a speaker to talk about foster care issues? Two reasons…
- For over 25 years, Shorecrest has sponsored a holiday gift drive for children in the foster care system. Most recently, the children have been part of the Guardian ad Litem program. This is a system of volunteers who represent children in court – in some states they are called “CASAs” Court Appointed Special Advocate. Basically, when a ruling is made on the case of a child in foster care, everyone in the room has their own agenda, but no one is hired to speak for the child. These volunteers see the child regularly, be sure their needs are being met, listen to them talk about where they are living, how school is going, etc. and then stand up for them in court. This year, Shorecrest will gather gifts for about 220 children, and for some of these kids it will be the only gifts they get all year. In addition to making wish lists before the season, these kids also send thank you notes that always bring tears to my eyes. Sometimes they ask for diapers for their baby sibling instead of toys for themselves. Some kids want a dream gift, like a new bike or video gaming system. Some want basic necessities, like gloves and socks. (The girl we’re shopping for this year wanted a baby doll and roller skates.)
- Another reason Ashley Rhodes-Courter came to Shorecrest has to do with their new Guardian ad Litem club started by two high schoolers. Some of the parents at school volunteer with Guardian ad Litem, and students hearing about the program during the gift drive and from the parents wanted to help the children beyond the two weeks of the gift drive. One of their first initiatives of the 2015-2016 school year was sitting down with Ashley to interview her (video here) – and later to ask her to host a discussion and book signing at school.
Her first book is linked with Reese Witherspoon in movie talks… which has been going on for a couple years. That, coupled with Ashley’s busy national speaking circuit schedule, made us a lucky group to hear her story first hand for about an hour, teamed with a question/answer session, book signing, and Guardian ad Litem reps available to answer questions or sign up new volunteers.
Many people in the audience of over 300 were somehow involved in child welfare – through work, volunteering, or their personal experiences. One of my friends who attended works as a high school guidance counselor for Pinellas County students in the foster care system. One is a Guardian ad Litem who has asked me to donate time and clothes to foster care teens in need who she knew. Many had already read Ashley’s book and had hot button questions waiting for her at the end of her talk.
Ashley was funny, down to earth, off the cuff and complemented my earrings (which I told her were just $3 on clearance at Charming Charlie). We spoke about being a mom and cat allergies. We talked about how much I love Shorecrest, and how it takes a village of caring people to raise kids the way we would hope to raise them. Now we follow each other on Instagram.
After years being shuffled from foster home to group home, Ashley was lucky enough to obtain a Guardian ad Litem (GAL). This one volunteer, Mary Miller, changed the course of Ashley’s life. “Mary Miller was the one person not paid to take care of me, yet she was the only one who believed me when I said I was being abused… and ultimately helped find me the adoptive family that transformed my life. That is the power of one person.” Mary remains a constant in Ashley’s life, and was present at her college graduation, wedding and baby shower. Ashley is both a foster and adoptive parent. Her boys are 1, 2 and 3 years old! Her husband was there too and seemed very sweet and quiet.
GALs do so much for children in the foster care system. They follow up on case plans, represent children in court, make sure they are safe and their needs are being met – and all because they have a little extra time and a big heart.
Guardian ad Litem Foundation’s executive director, Amy Foster, was also on hand to recruit volunteers and mentors. I’ve since poked around online and read more about her recent life. She’s a very inspiring woman! You may know her name as a City Council member in St Pete. Just last summer she adopted a girl who had recently graduated high school. This teen girl and adult woman are filling holes in each others’ lives. (If you need a heartwarming cry, check the story & video out here.) “Today there are more children in care than ever, and every one of us can make a difference in the life of a child, whether we do it with our time, talents or treasure.” Amy Foster told the group at Shorecrest. “Being a Guardian ad Litem volunteer… is really one of the most rewarding roles that I’ve ever served in.”
Find out how you can be a voice for a child here: http://www.guardianadlitem6.org/menus/become-a-guardian-ad-litem.html