TAMPA, Fla. - Jill Stelzig spent one morning digging through boxes of clothes and toys, searching for the perfect gift. It’s not the first time she’s gone shopping for kids.
Jill raised three 3 children and has 7 grandkids. However, those presents are not for family, they’re for a 2-year-old boy and 16-year-old girl recently removed from their homes and placed into the foster system.
“It’s rewarding knowing that you're doing something for a child, even one. Because one child means a lot. Each child is important,” said Jill.
Jill is a Guardian Ad Litem. She serves as an advocate for some of the more than four thousand abused, abandoned and neglected children in Hillsborough County.
Volunteers like Jill and Bill DeMare form relationships with the kids they’re paired with, observe their families, and represent the child's best interest in court.
“These children need someone to try and find a place for them that will make them happy and give them the opportunity to live a life of normalcy,” said Bill.
Bill has been volunteering for eight years and is currently working with a 17-year-old about to age out of the foster system.
“He's turning 18 Saturday, so I have a birthday card for him. You just try to do what you would do for your children and your grandchildren. You try to do the same thing for these children,” explained Bill.
Bill admits the job can be hard and frustrating at times. Nevertheless, the rewards outweigh the heartbreak. In 2018, Bill helped five children find their forever homes.
“I even start to cry when I think about some of these adoptions,” said Bill. “Those are homeruns. The strikeouts will come, but you keep going at it until you get a homerun.”
Sadly, there aren't enough volunteers to help every child in the system, which means many children go without a guardian. If you'd like more information, GAL is hosting a fall wellness and advocacy festival tomorrow at New Life Village in Tampa, or you can learn more by visiting the Guardian Ad Litem website.