Coed, independent, PK3-12th grade school in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Shorecrest Hosts Ashley Rhodes-Courter & the Guardian ad Litem Foundation [video]
by Raffi Darrow, Ebytes Editor
“No kid should have to spend ten years in foster care,” a video of a teenage Ashley Rhodes-Courter proclaimed to an audience in the Janet Root Theatre at Shorecrest Preparatory School on November 30, 2015. The NY Times best-selling author of “Three Little Words” and “Three More Words” - books about her childhood in foster care, ultimate adoption, and her efforts to make peace with her past - was invited to speak at Shorecrest about child welfare issues and court appointed child advocates.
For 25 years, Shorecrest has partnered with Guardian ad Litem to collect gifts for children in the Tampa Bay Area foster care system during an annual holiday gift drive. Students from age 3 through grade 12 donate and wrap gifts for specific children in the system who hand over a wish list. By now, the GALs (as the volunteers with Guardian ad Litem are called) know to tell the children to dream big. They ask for basics like clothes and toys, but some also hope greater wishes come true - like digital cameras, video gaming systems or mattresses. And if you’ve ever been in the Crisp Gym on the last day of the Shorecrest Gift Drive, one by one as classes deliver what they’ve collected, you’ve seen those wishes come true.
Ashley Rhodes-Courter, herself a Charger mom, shared the story of her childhood in intimate detail, and explained how she owed her current lifestyle to her Guardian ad Litem. “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.
Shorecrest sophomore and co-Founder of the Guardian ad Litem club at Shorecrest, Drew Z, had this to say about the impact of Ashley’s presentation:
Listening to Mrs. Rhodes-Courter and talking to her, it was obvious that she didn't have what we would call a "normal" childhood. She was neglected and abandoned by her mom and then abused in many of the 14 foster homes she lived in, and yet she stayed positive and beat the system. A lot of people thought, “Oh, she's in foster care, so she won't amount to anything,” but that is not the case at all. Some children just need support, like the support that Mrs. Rhodes-Courter got from her Guardian ad Litem and her adoptive parents, and if they can have that than they can do the rest. “You get to choose your future,” She told us. “In life it's not enough to complain, you have to be part of the solution,” is what Mrs. Rhodes-Courter said, and what she embodies.
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.
The all-volunteer Guardian ad Litem Foundation’s executive director, Amy Foster, was also on hand to recruit volunteers and mentors. “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. Being a Guardian ad Litem volunteer... is really one of the most rewarding roles that I’ve ever served in.”
After the program, Ashley Rhodes-Courter stayed to autograph copies of her books for sale, and chatted with the crowd. Some attendees also took advantage of the moment to sign up as new Guardian ad Litem volunteers.
Thank you to Shorecrest Upper School’s new Guardian ad Litem Service Club and the Shorecrest Community Association for sharing this endearing program with the school and the Tampa Bay Community.