Each year the GAL Program recognizes GAL volunteers, GAL staff, and community supporters for their tireless work and dedication to the Program. It is always extremely difficult for the judging panel to review everyone’s nominations. We have so many great volunteers, employees, and supporters – reading these nominations reinforces the dedication and drive they have for the children and the GAL Program. Congratulations to all who were nominated and to our award recipients.

GAL Statewide Awards Press Release

Volunteer of the Year Press Release


Non-Profit of the Year is awarded to one 501(c)3 organization who consistently assists the GAL Program in all aspects of advocacy, fundraising, and support for the benefit of our mission and the children we serve.

Congratulations North West Florida GAL Foundation 

To meet the needs of children this non-profit began a fund for children in need which is on track to provide $60,000 for children in their area this year. Additionally, they held the first annual “Sheriff’s Challenge” golf tournament for Sheriff’s offices to challenge each other on who can better support the GAL Program, developing a partnership with law enforcement and creating additional fundraisers throughout the Circuit.

To increase child representation through volunteer growth, this non-profit developed a successful awareness campaign with local television utilizing prominent leaders in the community to boost awareness of the GAL Program.

In addition, they funded a part-time CAM position to help with the increased workload.

Congratulations North West Florida GAL Foundation in Pensacola! Your passion and commitment to children is making a difference every day in the lives of children. Thank you!

Nominees for this award: Circuit 2 – Tallahassee: GAL Foundation of the 2nd Circuit; Circuit 4 – Jacksonville: GAL Foundation of Florida’s First Coast; Circuit 5 – Ocala: Voices for Children of North Central Florida, Inc.; Circuit 11 – Miami: Voices for Children Foundation; Circuit 12 – Sarasota: Children’s Guardian Fund; Circuit 15 – Palm Beach: Friends of Foster Children; Circuit 17 – Fort Lauderdale: Kiwanis International Service Club, Cooper City; Circuit 18 – Viera: AAGO Foundation; Circuit 19 – Port St. Voices for Children of Okeechobee and the Treasure Coast


Community Advocate of the Year is awarded to an individual or group who has gone above and beyond in engaging their community for the benefit of the GAL Program and the children we serve. The nominee will have exhibited exceptional commitment to involvement and advocacy with and for GAL, with dedication to the principles and standards of the Program.

Congratulations Riana and Olga and the University of Miami School of Law

This community advocate came to Miami as a former GAL in Gainesville, and she and a fellow student, decided to use their passion for helping children to organize information sessions and on site trainings for other students at University of Miami School of Law to become certified Guardians ad Litem.

Wanting to provide their peers with as much information as possible and help them be outstanding GAL’s they organized a panel to discuss the ins and outs of the dependency system, which included GAL staff, a Judge and the Chief of the Special Prosecutions Section of the Department of Justice.

Through their efforts and dedication, we have been able to solidify an important and lasting partnership.

The GAL Program is proud to recognize Riana and Olga and the University of Miami School of Law as the Statewide Community Advocates of the Year.

Nominees for this award: Circuit 1 – Pensacola: JJ Talbott Law Firm; Circuit 2 – Tallahassee: Sweet Dreams Project Killearn United Methodist Church; Circuit 3 – Live Oak: Georgia Pacific Cellulose; Circuit 4 – Jacksonville: Clay County Clerk’s Office; Circuit 5 – Ocala: Sky Ranch Foundation; Circuit 6 – Clearwater: Kurt Browning, Superintendent Pasco County Schools; Circuit 7 – Daytona: Lajuana McKay; Circuit 8 – Gainesville: Riverbend Church of Christ; Circuit 9 – Kissimmee: Kent Custom Homes; Circuit 10 – Bartow: Polk County School Board; Circuit 12 – Sarasota: Arcadia Police Department; Circuit 13 – Tampa: Mary McDonald, Suncoast Federal Credit Union; Circuit 14 – Panama City: Tyndall Federal Credit; Circuit 15 – Palm Beach: Ellen Kranzler; Circuit 16 – Key West: Steve Torrence, Key West Police Department; Circuit 17 – Fort Lauderdale: David Zelniker; Circuit 18 – Viera: Jeff Griesemer, Child Rescue Network; Circuit 19 – Port St. Lucie: Kip Lyman; Circuit 20 – Fort Myers: Anne LeVasseur, Student/Girl Scout


Circuit Team: is awarded annually to one (1) team (1 child advocacy manager, 1 attorney, 1 GAL Volunteer). This team should have demonstrated exemplary service for a child that epitomizes the team approach.

Congratulations Mary and Ken Ward – GAL Volunteers, Laura Faber – Child Advocate Manager, Roberta Katz – Child Best Interest Attorney from Circuit 19 – Port St. Lucie

The G. case is a story of inspiration and the results we can achieve when we come together as a team to advocate for the best interests of children.

There were two siblings, sheltered with their grandfather as a result of the mother’s substance abuse and the father in the hospital. A few days after shelter the father passed away. The consensus was the children would be best placed with an older sibling, in Texas but the ICPC was denied.

The grandfather hired a private attorney to pursue adoption by the older sibling upon recommendation by the GAL attorney, who supplied the attorney with the pleadings needed to initiate the adoption intervention.

The mother executed a surrender.

The GALP applied for approval for the children to travel to Texas and the adoption attorney retained a private company to complete a home study outside of ICPC. In May of 2018, the children’s mother died.

Throughout the period, the grandfather’s health was declining. The volunteers maintained contact with him, even walking his dog when he was in the hospital, and with the children, even though they were in Texas. They spent hours on the phone with the older sibling and also with other siblings as possible placements.

The GAL Attorney did everything they could to push the adoption along, maintaining frequent contact with the private attorney. The children were able to remain in Texas due to our attorney’s advocacy in court.

On July 12, 2018, the grandfather died, but the GAL Attorney was able to tell him the adoption hearing was set for July 13th before he passed away so he knew the children were going to be alright.

This was truly a team effort, in every sense of the word, and through hard work, diligence, patience and collaboration, the two siblings have a permanent loving home. This is a powerful example of teamwork, caring, compassion, and perseverance by an outstanding GAL team.

Congratulations to Mary and Ken Ward – GAL Volunteers, Laura Faber – Child Advocate Manager, Roberta Katz – Child Best Interest Attorney from Circuit 19 – Port St. Lucie

Nominees for this award: Circuit 2 – Tallahassee: Emma Henderson GAL, Katelyn Carmona CAM, Mark Adelstein BIA; Circuit 3 – Live Oak: Elizabeth Dominguez GAL, Patricia Thomas CAM, Justin Budwick SA; Circuit 4 – Jacksonville: Marc Banghart GAL, Clara Meyers CAM, David Gregors BIA; Circuit 5 – Ocala: Sue Carpenter GAL, Jennifer Tuggerson CAM, Melody Council CAM, Susan King BIA; Circuit 7 – Daytona Beach Office; Circuit 12 – Manatee: Barbara Dittman GAL, John Woodhead CAM, Neal Addison BIA; DeSoto: Sandee Woods CAM, Amy Clark BIA; Circuit 15 – Palm Beach: Cynthia Jackson-Michelet GAL, Shari Calderwood CAMII, Leslie Dufresne CAM, Lauren Castle BIA; Circuit 17 – Fort Lauderdale: Angie Stevenson CAMII, Ari Turner BIA, Ashley Sawyer Akerman AAL, Tamara Malvin Akerman AAL


Barbra Sessa Award is awarded to a person who epitomized Barbra’s spirit and advocacy for children. A CAM in the 6th Circuit for many years, she trained and certified thousands of volunteers, she was a rock and a resource for staff and volunteers, and demonstrated commitment to the Program no matter what was going on in her life. She inspired all she came in contact with.

Congratulations Zachary Lang

This employee is an extraordinary asset to the GAL Program, working tirelessly to ensure children’s needs are being met. His history of working with troubled youth and families with mental health issues is invaluable to not only his cases but to all on the Circuit team.

He has an ability to immediately build a trust level with his assigned children and quickly and effectively represent their best interests in court. This employee is always ready to assist his coworkers, train and motivate volunteers and is an outstanding example for his peers with his unwavering commitment to the children we serve.

Congratulations to Zachary Lang, from Jacksonville on receiving the Barbra Sessa Award!

Nominees for this award: Circuit 2 – Tallahassee: Carmen Edge; Circuit 5 – Ocala: Jennifer Tuggerson; Circuit 6 – Clearwater: Diana Aboussir; Circuit 8 – Gainesville: Katie Zeile & Irena Melvin; Circuit 10 – Bartow: Deanna Campbell; Circuit 11 – Miami: Mary “J” Walton; Circuit 15 – Palm Beach: Fay Reynolds; Circuit 19 – Port St. Lucie: Ellen Shafer

Judge Daniel P. Dawson Award was established in 2001 in honor of the Honorable Circuit Judge Daniel P. Dawson of the 9th Judicial Circuit. Judge Dawson’s significant contributions to expanding GAL representation for all abused and neglected children in Florida spirited the Program forward so more children are served today. Nominees should exhibit leadership contributions in the GAL Program; dedication to solving community issues that affect dependent children; innovation in GAL representation and commitment to expanding GAL representation for every child who needs one; significant contribution to GAL Program.

Congratulations Andi Bemenderfer

Over her decades of service to the GAL Program, this employee has made many outstanding contributions to GAL expansion and representation, and solving community issues.

Most recently, she restructured a number of circuit operations and teams to increase representation in the four county area.

From fostering and adopting her own children, recruiting, training and serving countless volunteers since the very beginning of the circuit office in her area, and providing steady and supportive leadership, she has done it all and helped to grow our Program immensely.

Congratulations to Andi Bemenderfer from the 19th Circuit – Port St. Lucie! Thank you for your continued dedication to the Program and all you contribute every day.

Nominees for this award: Circuit 2 – Tallahassee: Eric Emery; Circuit 4 – Jacksonville: Amber Schubert; Circuit 15 – Palm Beach: Lauren Clifton


Angela Orkin Dedication Award is awarded annually to one (1) employee who exhibits the dedication of Angela Orkin to the mission of the GAL Program. Angela Orkin served as the first Executive Director of the Statewide Guardian ad Litem Office and set the standard for excellence in every aspect of child advocacy. This nomination can be for any employee. This nominee should be an employee who is personable, organized, a team builder, conscientious, innovative, and hard-working. One who consistently exhibits a high standard for excellence and exemplary support for all aspects of the GAL’s mission, their teammates, and the children and public we serve.

Congratulations Tammy Harris

As a supervisor to 11 CAM’s, this employee daily gives constant support, advice and unwavering commitment to our Program and the children we serve. She responds quickly to the needs of her employees even on her day off, and attends all the shelter hearings to make sure our advocacy is effective and the children are supported.

This employee has a way of helping the children and her team deal with the pressures and emotions of cases, always offering humor and support. Her team says she advocates for them with the same passion as for the children.

Congratulations Tammy Harris from Circuit 2 – Tallahassee, and thank you for all you do!

Nominees for this award: Circuit 3 – Live Oak: Linda Peacock; Circuit 4 – Jacksonville: Clara Meyers; Circuit 5 – Ocala: Verna Cardona-Benzel; Circuit 11 – Miami: Monica Porrata; Circuit 19 – Port St. Lucie: Celia Garcia; State Office Tallahassee: Greg Ramsey


Leadership Award is awarded to someone who clearly demonstrates strong leadership qualities to include, but not limited to; leadership, integrity and innovation while attaining GAL goals and objectives. Consideration should be given to leadership contributions which demonstrate integrity, teamwork, excellence, and respect in fulfilling the Program’s mission.

Congratulations Christine Meyer

This employee “is the epitome of what a leader should be: friendly, encouraging, knowledgeable, respectful, respectable, supportive, and beyond a doubt and by every definition of the word, empowering,” says their Assistant Director.

Over 20+ years with the GAL Program, they have built a reputation as a brilliant attorney and honored leader within the GALP team.

This employee never says “no” rather always looks for a way to achieve the best outcome even when it seems impossible.

A specialist in administration of psychotropic medications, they were recently part of a Statewide Taskforce to revamp that portion of the Administrative Code and is the go to for training their team on a multitude of subjects.

This employee was recently awarded the prestigious Board Certification in Juvenile Law.

Congratulations Christine Meyer from Jacksonville and thank you for your outstanding leadership!

Nominees for this award: Northern Region: Paul Crawford; Circuit 5 – Ocala: Douglas Feldkamp; Circuit 17 – Fort Lauderdale: Kasandra Phillips; Circuit 19 – Port St. Lucie: Gary Bokas


Executive Director award is the GAL Programs top award for employee performance and can be earned by any employee. Final selections for this award will be made from nominees forwarded to the Executive Director from the Nomination Review Committee. Each nominee’s performance must have been exceptional, and must have assisted the GAL Program in attaining its goals, either locally or statewide, and must have significantly aided the Program in fulfilling its mission. Leadership, core and technical competencies are also important considerations. The nomination committee will be looking for high level performance in each of the following categories; culturally competent advocacy, decision making, flexibility, integrity/honesty, interpersonal skills learning, organizational awareness, self-management, or team building.

Congratulations George Tormes

This employee’s Supervising Attorney says it’s not just their exceptional knowledge of dependency law but “their unwavering commitment to best interest advocacy that makes them deserving of this award.”

This employee exemplifies what it is to be an all-round leader. Their door is always open and they are quick to provide whatever support they can to the legal team as well as the CAM’s and volunteers.

Their Circuit Director, says this employee “has a great knack for seeing the big picture and finding outside the box resolutions to tough issues.”

They are an invaluable resource to the recruitment and training team as well, sharing their knowledge with community members regarding the special plight of LGBTQ youth in foster care through the LGBTQ chamber of commerce.

According to Sharon Hornett, Lead Attorney, “Whatever is needed, Jorge is the MAN!” Congratulations George Tormes from Miami! Thank you George!

Nominees for this award: Circuit 18 – Viera: Susan Prado


Audrey Schiebler Volunteer of the Year award honors “the best of the best” from the Program’s thousands of volunteers. The nominee should exemplify excellence in forwarding the GAL Program’s mission through their work with our children, with mentoring others, with teamwork, and with dedication and commitment to the principles and standards of the Program.

Congratulations Patti Reges

The GAL Program’s Audrey Schiebler Volunteer of the Year Award is a superlative without comparison. We have the most caring, dedicated, and compassionate volunteers whose excellence for advocacy can literally be life-altering for children.

As a GAL for 20 years, this volunteer’s spirit and tenacity is inspirational, committing their time, money, and compassionate heart to hundreds of children through the years.

This year, this volunteer carried two difficult and emotionally demanding cases with medically needy children. One, an infant, was shaken nearly to death, the other disabled, with an intellectually disabled mother.

According to her team, “This volunteer is an asset and an angel to everyone she meets. She asks and asks until she gets results. She is an amazing woman, a priceless guardian…and a dear friend.”

Congratulations Patti Reges from Brevard County in the 18th Circuit. Thank you, on behalf of everyone who is for the child!

Nominees for this award: Circuit 1 – Pensacola: Dr. Catherine Palmier; Circuit 2 – Tallahassee: Krista Killius; Circuit 3 – Live Oak: Monica Banks; Circuit 4 – Jacksonville: Marc Banghart; Circuit 5 – Ocala: Mari O’Donnell; Circuit 6 – Clearwater: Nancy & Doug Dupuis; Circuit 7 – Daytona: Sandy Pijot; Circuit 8 – Gainesville: Elizabeth Husband; Circuit 9 – Kissimmee: Chris Wuennenberg; Circuit 10 – Bartow: Teresa O’Brien; Circuit 11 – Miami: Carol Ballent; Circuit 12 – Sarasota: Joy Holloway; Circuit 13 – Tampa: Tami Bradley; Circuit 14 – Panama City: Beth Herndon; Circuit 15 – Palm Beach: Cynthia Jackson-Michelet; Circuit 16 – Key West: Sally Manz; Circuit 17 – Fort Lauderdale: Beth Feder; Circuit 19 – Port St. Lucie: Christine Feist; Circuit 20 – Fort Myers: Susan Barnett