They’re Worth the Fight

January 29 | Josae Martin

Volunteering as a Child Advocate

Three years ago, Mara Shorr nervously made her first phone call to the Legal Aid Society about becoming a Volunteer Advocate for Children (VAC). She expressed feeling ill-equipped for the task since she had no legal experience. “I wasn’t a social worker or a lawyer or anything like that, but I wanted to try,” said Mara. Little did she know this experience would completely change her life. Mara is motivated by her personal experiences with loved ones who suffered from mental health and substance abuse issues. She is passionate about helping foster youth exposed to similar circumstances, and her efforts have proved to be rewarding in many ways. After witnessing her hard work through the successful adoption of two VAC cases within the last year, she is proud of herself for not giving up and allowing fear to overcome her desire to help.

Mara learned about the VAC program from a coworker/friend who volunteers with the Legal Aid Society. Once she met all the requirements and passed all background checks as required by the Guardian ad Litem (GAL) program, she met and trained with Kamia Taylor, the VAC Coordinator with the Legal Aid Society. Despite GAL’s strict program requirements for procuring child safety, she described her process as a smooth transition and couldn’t wait to begin. That’s when she was assigned to her first case and met 8-year-old Zoey, a child who’d spent most of her years in the foster care system. Admittedly, Mara’s first encounter with Zoey’s foster parents was extremely awkward, but they became inseparable the more she got to know them and Zoey.” It was as if I’d known her my whole life,” Mara said. She now considers Zoey and her foster parents some of her closest family. They’ve shared holidays for the past few years and bonded on their love for Zoey.

As an entrepreneur, expert healthcare consultant, international speaker, and published author, Mara Shorr is a hardworking woman. However, the most rewarding job, she says, is being a voice for children despite associated challenges. “There are many days where I’m so frustrated with the system that it would bring me to tears because of how long the process can take,” she admitted. Placing a child in a new home is meticulous, and errors can have tragic consequences. Mara believes that we need to consider all aspects of helping foster youth. She’s met children whose reading level was significantly lower than their grade level, further complicating their case. Some children suffer from severe trauma that has led to undiagnosed physical and mental health issues. With so many children in the foster care system, it can be difficult to identify the requirements of every single child. For this reason, Mara acknowledges the crucial role of a VAC and how it can facilitate this process of accurately assessing a child’s needs. “That’s why I fight so hard to ensure they get that help. Persistence is key”, she added.

Zoey wasn’t the only child to have significantly impacted Mara’s life. Recently, she was able to witness another successful adoption of a baby boy who’d been in the system since birth. “It took 777 days for this to happen. Countless emails, texts, court hearings, meetings, home visits, late night and early morning phone calls, frustration, and tears…today baby Jacob gets permanency”, Mara announced on her social media page. She further explained that despite the numerous mishaps during his case, she was proud to have played a vital role in his adoption process.

While there are some cases with happy endings, Mara also acknowledges that there are cases where she wishes things had gone differently. “Reunification with biological parents is always the goal but sometimes it doesn’t work that way and you feel heartbroken,” she said. However, what drives her hope is knowing that she can advocate on the child’s behalf to help them on their journey to finding a permanent and happy home. Mara finds her involvement with Legal Aid to be purposefully fulfilling and would like to see more concerned individuals involved as well. “You are more equipped than you think you are”, she encouraged, “If you’re hesitating, hop on a call and get more information. Sometimes we are the ones who get in our way.”

The VAC program of The Legal Aid Society enables volunteers, who are assigned to a particular case, to meet with dependent children in their natural surroundings to determine their current state, interests, and needs. Legal Aid greatly appreciates volunteers like Mara who consistently show up and advocate for foster children through the Guardian ad Litem program. Mara’s example proves that you don’t need legal knowledge or background to volunteer; all you need is the willingness to help a child get a second chance at a better life. If you or anyone you know is interested in becoming a Volunteer Advocate for Children through our organization, please call (407) 841-8310.