Meeting Unmet Needs

Voices for Children of North Central Florida serves children in the five-county 5th Judicial Circuit.

Front, from left: Sue Carpenter and Kathleen Cossey; and back, from left: Betty Frankfather, Gae Pensabene, Alan Gouge, Jeff Cohen, Jane Gouge and Joan Knight; Photo by Bruce Ackerman at Soleil Bakery & Social House

Voices for Children of North Central Florida (VCNCF) was founded in 1991 and serves children from newborn to age 18 in the 5th Judicial Circuit, which includes Marion, Citrus, Hernando, Lake and Sumter counties.

The 501(c)(3) organization provides for children assigned to the Guardian ad Litem Program in the 5th Circuit. These are youngsters who have been adjudicated dependent by the state due to alleged abuse, abandonment or neglect. Guardians ad Litem are volunteers who advocate in court proceedings for the “best interest of the child.”  VCNCF offers additional support by supplying funds for emergency and unmet needs.  

These needs may be for clothing, furniture normalcy activities, medical attention, holiday gifts and items needed by older children who are aging out of the system or who are en route to independent living. 

Photo courtesy of Voices for Children

“Our goal is to aid these children at a very critical and confusing time in their lives to make the transition to new living situations as comforting and comfortable as possible,” says VCNCF president Sue Carpenter. “We’re all volunteers. We work from our homes. We have no office space; we have a donated storage facility we use for our materials and hosting events and so forth.”

The group began with five or six members in 1991 and now has 15. They start with covering the basics, such as clothing or sometimes a bed. About 10 years ago, the nonprofit started a normalcy program that aims to give the kids opportunities many of us likely took for granted when we were young. 

“What we have found in working with these kids is that the state pays for their basics to a point. But a lot of these kids want to participate in extracurricular activities and there’s no funding provided for that,” Carpenter explains, adding that funds provided by VCNCF may allow the children to participate in, for instance, music lessons, purchasing a musical instrument, going to camp, football and cheerleading, going to homecoming or on a school field trip, or for a school project. 

For children aging out of primary education, VCNCF’s Independent Living program educates and equips them for living on their own. 

“We have a supply of binders we get from Foster Club of America,” Carpenter says. “And the binders contain areas to record things with all of their medical records, all of their dental records, their school records, if available, their birth records, anything from school as far as awards go, and so forth.”

The binders also guide the youths through things like how to apply for a first apartment and what it takes to buy a car. 

At Christmastime, VCNCF gets festive with the Tree of Angels program. Every holiday season, Carpenter sends forms to the Guardians ad Litem requesting information about each student’s Christmas wish. VCNCF presents the requests to sponsors, who respond with gifts, games, toys, clothes and gift cards. 

The newest form of assistance VCNCF offers is a 2024 renewable scholarship, which is not need-based. The youth simply apply through their Guardian ad Litem. 

“At the Statewide Guardian ad Litem office, we appreciate the nonprofits throughout Florida who support the abused, abandoned, and neglected children our office represents daily in court and the community. Voices for Children of North Central Florida continues to assist our foster children with important normalcy needs in their local community, from basic clothing necessities and extracurricular activity fees to medical needs. We appreciate their dedication and support of our most vulnerable children,” offers Statewide Guardian ad Litem Office Director of Communications Melissa Bujeda.

Funding for VCNCF is from grants, donations, fundraisers and other activities with various organizations and supporters. A bulk of the funding comes from an annual quarter auction fundraiser.

“It’s held in a community center in Citrus County,” Carpenter says. “We usually get around 200 guests. We serve a full dinner and 95% of the food is donated.” OS

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