On Thursday, October 29, Child Advocates’ staff, board members and volunteers gathered together at Bayou City Event Center to celebrate our court appointed advocates. During this special evening we honored two particular individuals, presenting them with the James A. Gwinn Volunteer of the Year award and the Rookie of the Year award.
The James A. Gwinn Volunteer of the Year award was created in 1996 as a tribute to James’ strong belief in the mission of Child Advocates. He was a shining example of what an advocate should be and the James A. Gwinn Volunteer is the highest honor one can receive by Child Advocates.
KEEPING A PROMISE…
Marcus Chery first heard about Child Advocates in the ninth grade, long before he was of eligible age to volunteer. He was so moved by the work Child Advocates does that he wrote a letter to Sonya and included his allowance as a donation. Sonya replied with a thank you note, thus beginning a pen pal relationship with Marcus.
As Marcus kept getting older, his allowance kept growing and the donations kept coming in. Marcus promised Sonya that when he was old enough, he would become a volunteer and begin helping children himself. He and Sonya continued to write back and forth.
One day, shortly after his 21st birthday, Marcus came to orientation and became a court appointed advocate, just as he had promised.
In the last nine years, Marcus has served over 25 children, even taking on multiple cases at a time and serving multiple sibling groups. He has given over 1,240 hours of his time, even taking his own vacation time to make sure he can appear in court. Marcus has never missed a visit and has traveled several thousand miles in 2015 to make sure the best interests of his children are served.
On one case in particular, Marcus had to work extra hard to build a relationship with two young boys. They came into care for the second time due to their mother’s drug abuse.
The boys were struggling academically and had behavioral issues in their foster home. Multiple grandparents came forward to ask for custody of the boys. Some parties on the case wanted to immediately place the boys with their maternal grandparents. However, Marcus was not convinced this was the right home for them. He made sure to do a thorough evaluation of both homes and the grandparents. Marcus was determined to find the best possible home for them.
Marcus recommended a placement with the boys paternal grandparents. He knew the structure that they could provide would ultimately be what is best for the boys. When Child Protective Services (CPS) didn’t initially agree with his assessment, Marcus worked hard to prove to all parties involved that the paternal grandparents would be the best fit. Due to his persistence and understanding of the boys’ needs, they were placed with the paternal grandparents and their grades and behavior improved tremendously.
While his work as a court appointed advocate is impressive, Marcus has also been an ambassador for Child Advocates for many years. His face has been seen on postcards and billboards representing Child Advocates and he is quick to speak about the amazing work Child Advocates is doing in the community.
Marcus is an outstanding volunteer, and was overwhelmed with gratitude as we named him Volunteer of the Year with his family standing close by. Congratulations Marcus!
RISING TO THE CHALLENGE…
In her first year as a court appointed advocate Ana Escalona, our 2015 Rookie of the Year recipient, has proven to be a valuable asset to Child Advocates. Her first case involved an older child with serious medical trauma, a criminal case and an undocumented family, but no challenge was too much for Ana. She has demonstrated incredible compassion and communication skills, fighting persistently to make the child’s needs and voice heard.
Though she is new to her work as a child advocate, Ana is eager to learn. She is open to talking to anyone, and is always looking to better herself and her volunteer skills. While some may be timid in the court system, Ana is never afraid to ask questions and works hard to make sure she gets the answers and the clarification she needs when there is an issue.
Ana’s professional demeanor and diligent work ethic have helped to streamline the case. She has bridged gaps in communication and helped provide closure and comfort to a young girl who needed someone by her side.
We are proud to call Ana Escalona this year’s Rookie of the Year and we look forward to many years ahead with her as a member of the Child Advocates family.