Taryn Qualm, one of the center’s advocates, was voted Advocate of the Month in August.
(Gillette, Wyo.) Sitting on a corner near the post office is a small office that houses the Visitation and Advocacy Center. It’s easy to miss if you don’t know it’s there. Yet the services its staff and trained volunteers provide have a far-reaching impact across the community.
Pam Hyde, the center’s executive director, said such programs are vital to providing support for people in the community who are in need.
“We need to rally together as a community,” Hyde said at the center’s open house Thursday.
The event was aimed at educating the public on the center’s work and the challenges it faces. Throughout the building were questions for visitors to try to answer, and the correct answers were often surprising, such as the fact a supervised visit for one family twice per week–a total of two hours–costs the center $1,818.
All their services are offered to the families for free.
Voice for children
The child advocacy program relies on over 50 trained, volunteer advocates. The advocates provide a voice to the children whose parents or guardians are in the court system. These volunteers stand by the children, whose lives are in turmoil, until they can be placed into safe, loving homes, ensuring the kids’ safety and permanency.
“It’s a very rewarding job,” said David Ebertz, who has been volunteering as an advocate for several years now.
He said he develops lasting relationships with the children he’s advocated for. One of his first cases just recently graduated from high school, and they stay in touch with each other.
The advocates undergo 30 hours of training and are then appointed and sworn in by a judge.
Despite the numbers of advocates and their level of dedication, the center needs more of them. There are over 160 children on the center’s waiting list for advocates.
The impact of this program goes far beyond the kids. There are over 900 such programs across the company, and research has shown kids in the program perform better in schools than kids without advocates. They’re less likely to be expelled and show reduced aggression, anxiety, and depression.
Keeping families together
The visitation program assists children who are at risk of losing a relationship with one or more significant adults in cases of divorce or where there is abuse. The program ensures children can have a relationship with both parents that is safe and free from any conflict.
Children can visit with parents in comfortable, colorful rooms, with games and even a kitchen. And there is an enclosed playground outside as well.
The center also provides custodial exchange services in cases where divorcing or unmarried parents need a neutral location to exchange children or where protection orders limit contact between the couple.
As with children who have advocates, research shows children who maintain relationships with both parents perform better socially, emotionally, and academically, compared to children who grow up without both parents.
The program relies on support from private donations, as well as grants from the city, county, state, and federal sources. One particularly important gift came from Lois Rampon, who willed a large donation to the center.
As with all nonprofits, the center couldn’t operate without the donation of time from its advocates and other volunteers.
Anyone interested in becoming an advocate, new classes start Sept. 5. For more information, call the center at 660-6565.