By Liz Lebron
College was initially overwhelming for Jas Marie, a biology/sociology student at New College. Like most first-year students, Marie struggled to adapt to college life. Unlike most of her colleagues, however, Marie arrived at New College as an alumna of the Guardian ad Litem (GAL) program.
Guardian ad Litem for Children is a child advocacy organization that provides resources and support for children in the foster care system, who are the victims of neglect, or who have been abandoned. Marie was in the foster care system when she entered the program and met her GAL volunteer advocate, Ellen Frank. Determined to excel academically, Marie dual enrolled in Hernando High School and Pasco-Hernando State College. She graduated with an A average and gained acceptance to New College, her top choice, on a full scholarship.
“Tethered to education, I felt unstoppable,” Marie says. The opportunity to study at New College “showed me sometimes bad things happen for a reason.”
Marie is this year’s recipient of the Guardian ad Litem Foundation’s inaugural Triumph Award, which honors high-achieving youth in the GAL program. The Guardian Trust Foundation and the Florida Blue Foundation fund the award, which consists of a scholarship, a laptop and a computer bag.
Getting to New College was only the beginning for Marie. She has continued to excel and is now a thriving second-year student with an active campus life. Marie serves as the vice president of membership and secretary for New College’s award-winning Toastmasters Club, which recently won top honors at area competitions. Marie worked in the college’s Student Affairs Office, and she is currently a resident assistant.
The first-generation student is also “learning the weight of that” role and wants to offer incoming students the support she received from the New College community. Marie is spearheading an initiative to connect current and incoming students who are the first in their families to attend an institution of higher learning.
“Pick up your pens, first-gens!” begins a letter Marie wrote for inclusion in the Orientation 2019 newsletter. “You can connect with current New College students who are also first-gens and want to help you navigate life on campus.”
Sharon Alcock, who is associate director of new student recruitment at New College, supported Marie’s nomination for the Triumph Award. Alcock was Marie’s admissions counselor as she went through the application process.
“Whenever I see Jas on campus, she is smiling from ear to ear and emanating genuine warmth,” Alcock wrote in her letter of recommendation.
Frank, who has worked with Marie since 2016, and Cindy Ellerbee, a child advocate manager with GAL, accompanied Marie when she traveled to Tallahassee for a scholarship luncheon honoring her and the other two recipients.
“This award exemplifies what Guardian ad Litem stands for,” said Guardian ad Litem Circuit Director Marcia Hilty of the Fifth Judicial Circuit, who nominated Marie for the Award. “It extends well beyond its monetary value.”
For more information about the Guardian ad Litem Program, please call 352-671-5757 or visit www.guardianadlitem.org.
— Liz Lebron is associate director of communications and marketing at New College.