HENDERSON — The N.C. Guardian ad Litem programs will be conducting a food drive to collect plastic jars of peanut butter and jelly across the state to benefit the local food bank or pantries closest to the Guardian ad Litem program.

This is the fifth year for this community service program conducted by the Guardian ad Litem programs. Distribution of the collected peanut butter and jelly will occur during January 2022.

Donations can be dropped off in collection boxes in the Vance County Courthouse in Henderson, the Perry Memorial Library in Henderson and the Richard H. Thornton Library in Oxford.

When asked why the food drive is for peanut butter and jelly, organizers said, “Peanut butter is something all food banks need. We added the collection of jelly because we were all once children, and we fondly remember peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as a staple of a happy childhood. We believe that our peanut butter and jelly drive will help us mobilize and engage our neighbors, friends and community groups to help us in getting these items to local food agencies and will also educate statewide about our program.”

The Guardian ad Litem program for judicial District 9 serves Franklin, Granville, Person, Vance and Warren counties. In 2019-20, it served 361 children and held 1,342 court hearings serving abused and neglected children. There were 139 community volunteers who served as court-appointed guardians ad litem. To become a volunteer, visit www.volunteerforgal.org

N.C. Guardian ad Litem equips community volunteers to serve abused and neglected children by advocating for their best interests in court. In 1983, the N.C. General Assembly established the Office of Guardian ad Litem Services as a division of the N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts.

When a petition alleging abuse or neglect of a juvenile is filed in district court, the judge appoints a volunteer Guardian ad Litem advocate and an attorney advocate to provide team representation to the child, who has full party status in trial and appellate proceedings.

All Guardian ad Litem advocates are trained, supervised, and supported by program staff in each county of the state. The collaborative model of attorney advocates, volunteers, and staff ensures that all North Carolina children who are alleged by the Department of Social Services to have been abused or neglected receive legal advocacy services.

The role of Guardian ad Litem advocates is to:

• Fulfill state and federal statutory mandates to protect and promote the best interests of juveniles in abuse and neglect court proceedings

• Help the courts work efficiently toward safety and permanence for children

• Conduct independent investigations to determine the facts, needs of the child and the resources appropriate to meet those needs

• Determine the wishes or expressed preferences of the child and report those to the court

• Provide a voice for abused and neglected children in every county of the state

Geornesha Harris is Guardian ad Litem for judicial District 9.

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