TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Guardian ad Litem Program announced last week that Patricia Thomas is its new circuit director for the Third Judicial Circuit, which serves abused, abandoned and neglected children in Columbia, Dixie, Hamilton, Lafayette, Madison, Suwannee and Taylor counties.
"Trish" Thomas has been with the Guardian ad Litem Program since 2016, when she volunteered as a child advocate to represent children in dependency court. She was such a good fit that in 2017, she joined the staff, helping to manage volunteers and connect the children they represented with needed services. In May 2018, she became program director, helping to manage the circuit's Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) and United Way grants.
"During that time, she has been a true asset to the Program and the children we represent in the Third Circuit," said Kristen Solomon, Guardian ad Litem's interim statewide director of operations. "She has been the face in the community, has brought new and innovative ideas to the table and is a team player. I have confidence in her abilities to lead the Third Circuit and really make the program her own."
"I'm just a hard worker," Thomas said. "I don't have a magic wand. It'd be nice, though."
But her dedication also comes from the fact that Thomas has been in foster care herself. She says it helps her communicate with children and youth in the system.
"Coming from the background I did, I know how important it is to a child to know somebody's looking out for their best interests," she said.
Paul Crawford, Guardian ad Litem's regional director for Northern Florida — and Thomas' supervisor — agrees.
"Having been in the foster care system herself as a child, she knows firsthand the difference that a caring advocate can make in a child’s life," he said. "She is a personal example of the ability to rise above adversity to make great accomplishments."
Thomas earned her associate's degree at Florida Gateway College in Lake City and her bachelor's degree, in psychology, at St. Leo University. She worked as a corrections officer and a behavioral therapy technician. Meanwhile, she volunteered at her children's schools and at the Wellborn Community Center, where she met the Guardian ad Litem staffer who recruited her.
Now Thomas is brimming with plans to carry her message across the Third Circuit.
Her predecessor, Linda Dedge, retired Dec. 31 after working with Guardian ad Litem since 1993. Dedge said Thomas and other staffers went through a "trial by fire" last year, when Dedge was very ill. While it is "bittersweet" to retire, Dedge said, she knows she's leaving the program in the best hands.
"Tricia's got it under control," she said. "She's going to do an awesome job."
Crawford, who worked with Dedge for 10 years, wishes her all the best in retirement.
“She has been a passionate and dedicated champion for the children, volunteers and staff," he said. "Linda’s work has made a tremendous positive impact in the lives of the numerous children that experienced abuse and neglect."
And Calvin Martin, Guardian ad Litem's director of program advocacy and inclusion, said Dedge "will always make a difference in this world, so 'retirement' is not the word that I would use for her. But I would use 'a new chapter' because she will always look for many opportunities for learning, for caring and for serving others. Having worked under Linda for so long, Trish falls along that same vein, which is why she will make for a wonderful leader for Circuit 3."
To learn more about the Guardian ad Litem Program or to volunteer, visit GuardianAdLitem.org or call 386-364-7720 or 386-758-1170.