Earlier this month, child advocates, attorneys who fight for abused, neglected, and injured children, business leaders, and others interested in protecting Florida’s foster children from sexual abuse, physical neglect, and other personal injury gathered for the annual Orlando fundraiser for Florida’s Children First (FCF). The event was held Sept. 17.
Founded by Howard Talenfeld, the state’s premier child abuse personal injury attorney, the preeminent statewide advocacy organization FCF honored child advocates in Orlando at its annual fundraising and awards event. Community and business leaders and all other persons concerned about the future of Florida’s children, especially abused, abandoned and neglected children and youth, gathered to laud Child Advocate of the Year, Melissa Landry.
Ms. Landry is not only Guardian ad Litem volunteer, but she is a true child advocate. Ms. Landry’s commitment to children is more than a personal decision, it is a family affair. Ms. Landry and her mother Brenda have both been Guardians ad Litem for more than six years and went through training at the same time.
Melissa is dedicated, hard-working and committed to children paying great attention to minute details, attending countless court hearings and agency staffing meetings, working tirelessly to prepare for such meetings fighting for the interests of her clients every step of the way.
FCA also recognized Media Advocate of the Year, Vanessa Echols. Ms. Echols was recognized for her exceptional work on the Forever Family series in Central Florida and her dedication to the community.
Forever Family news stories highlight children in foster care who are searching for adoptive families, teens ‘aging out’ of foster care, and issues relating to the American foster care crisis. The stories air on Channel 9 about local children hoping to be adopted and are created to engage and motivate the public to action. Vanessa’s dedication helps them find a “forever family”.
Ms. Echols joined the Eyewitness news team in 1992 and is now an anchor on the Channel 9 news at Noon and 4pm. She is involved in the Central Florida community, giving back, speaking at churches and schools, and volunteering her time with several community service organizations, including the Foundation for Foster Children.
Youth Advocate honoree Julia Schaffer is a survivor. Julia and her sister were placed in foster care because of abuse at the hands of their mother’s boyfriend. They went home that first day with Julia’s first grade teacher but then were in several different foster homes.
In what should have been a happy ending, they were adopted by that teacher and moved from Indiana to Florida with their new parents. A traumatic turn of events occurred when Julia was 13 and she and her sister were “un-adopted” and ended up in Florida’s foster care system.
Julia is now a 21 year old full-time student at Florida State University where she is studying Criminal Justice and minoring in sociology. She is the president of the Youth Advisory Board in Osceola, where she finds innovative ways to encourage her peers. Julia knew that education would be the key to breaking the cycle of poverty so she concentrated on her studies. Despite serious health challenges, including having a pacemaker, Julia remains dedicated to her peers and would do anything to be a light to others in this world.
About Florida’s Children First: Florida’s Children First is a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing the rights of at-risk children and youth, especially those in foster care. Uniquely positioned as Florida’s premiere independent advocacy organization, our mission is to seek full representation of children and youth and obtain meaningful and sustainable improvement in Florida’s child serving systems.