Ray Wonders moved to Orlando from the San Diego area in 1970 after receiving his bachelor's degree in English from San Diego State University. He began his career teaching high school before beginning his Ph.D program in Missouri, finishing at Florida State University in 1984. Ray spent a year in New Mexico, where he worked in two psychiatric hospitals and taught part-time. When a friend called from Manatee Community College in Bradenton, offering him a job, he accepted, borrowed a van and moved his family (wife and daughter) here. Ray taught at MCC until 2007 when he retired.
Q: What did you do for a living before becoming a GAL? Did your former experience help with your volunteer work and, if so, how?
A: I feel that teaching and working with people with psychiatric difficulties has been a tremendous help in my guardian work. The psychology we deal with every day demands that we maintain objectivity as much as possible, even in cases that prove to be extremely dysfunctional. Also, literature has taught me a great deal about the human condition, how civilized parameters must be required, especially where defenseless people are concerned (children) -- they are the most vulnerable in society.
Q: How and why did you become a volunteer?
A: I became a volunteer after hearing a GAL give a presentation at the courthouse. I was retired and felt I wanted to give something back to the community -- even though, I have to say that I was nervous.
Q: How would you describe your role as a GAL volunteer? Is this what you expected?
How is it different? How would you describe it to someone else?
A: My role as a volunteer is, above all, to serve the children, protect them and do everything possible to increase their chance for a successful future. Additionally, I feel a secondary duty to try and get parents to develop a different way of looking at their own lives, to step on the path toward "individuation," as advocated by Carl Jung. Of course, I'm not naïve enough to think this is always going to happen.
Q: What are some examples of your success stories? Who else has been instrumental in making positive changes on your case?
A: One example of success is a young mother who was held in thrall by a dysfunctional boyfriend to the point that she was willing to give up her child to stay in the relationship. The case turned out well: The boyfriend moved on, the child was adopted by the maternal grandparents, the estranged daughter came back to her parents and the child was safe and given love by the entire family.
The person who is most instrumental in my development as a GAL has to be my supervisor, Monica Moore. Even though she is unbelievably busy, she is always willing to mentor me, answer questions, help me with reports and, above all, educate me as to human nature and ways to deal with it. At 71, I'm never too old to learn.
Q: What are some examples of your frustrations?
A: Frustrations I experience are often the lack of communication between agencies, and, candidly, my own lack of knowledge, sometimes, about all the intricacies of working a case.
Q: How does being a volunteer fit with the rest of your life?
A: Being a volunteer fits in well with my life; I am retired, and I have time on my hands. I'm not into carpentry, bridge, golf or fishing; however, I do have a sailboat, but even that would get boring at some point. My wife works full time, so I find that I'm performing a valuable service as a GAL.
Q: Would you encourage others to volunteer?
A: I would absolutely encourage others to volunteer. I think it's crucial that anyone who has been fortunate enough to be successful in a rewarding career and then has the time to give back to the society that afforded him or her that life should do so.
Q: What changes would you like to see for children in dependency?
A: I would like to see more money coming down from government. My own feeling is that we lack adequate facilities, and that should be addressed. A central location in Bradenton housing GAL offices, adjacent to the coalition, and an outpatient facility to address the psychiatric side would, I believe, improve things a great deal.