Jurors ‘all rise’ to the occasion

Ugh. The dreaded jury summons. There it is. Sitting on the kitchen counter. Will you have to serve, and possibly sit on a jury for who knows how long?

What if that feeling of dread could be replaced with a sense of joy? For St. Lucie County residents summoned to serve in the courthouse, that’s exactly what the Clerk of the Circuit Court is hoping for.

Those who are selected to juries – and aren’t compensated by their employers – are paid between $15 and $30 each day they serve. And many of them have used that payment to further give back to their community – by donating it back to the Clerk of the Circuit Court’s charities.

“When jurors get paid for serving, they can donate the funds to charities designated by Florida law,” said Joe Smith, St. Lucie County’s Clerk of the Circuit Court. “A few years ago, we started issuing cash payments instead of mailing checks to jurors. The cash makes it so much easier for jurors to donate directly to important causes in our community.”

Over the past year, nearly 600 St. Lucie County jurors donated their $15 service payment, generating a total of $8,728 for SafeSpace and Voices for Children.

Since the program started two years ago, jurors have donated a total of $18,310.

SafeSpace and Voices for Children serve those in need across the Treasure Coast. SafeSpace offers victims of domestic violence safety, support and education, empowering them to create an independent life, free from violence.

Voices for Children supports Guardian ad Litem’s mission to speak for the best interests of abused and neglected children in the courts.

State law allows for the Clerk of the Circuit Court to donate funds to Guardian ad Litem and one local domestic violence shelter.

“Our clerk (Joe Smith) is a big proponent of domestic violence awareness,” said Joseph Abreu, communications manager at the Clerk of the Circuit Court.

Last year, jurors donated back $9,582, which was also split between SafeSpace and Voices for Children.

“It speaks volumes” of how much jurors contribute to the community, Abreu said – noting that, for many jurors, it’s not just about serving on the jury but also donating the money. “I think it’s admirable.”

Guardian ad Litem Director of the 19th Circuit Paul Nigro said the agency is appreciative of the donations to Voices for Children. As a state agency, Guardian ad Litem cannot solicit funds for itself; that’s where Voices for Children steps in.

Guardian ad Litem, an agency that provides legal representation for children in the court system, is able to provide what the state deems a “minimum sufficient level of care.”

“But that’s not all a child needs,” Nigro said, explaining that children often need afterschool programs, summer camp opportunities, therapy, the list goes on.

Through Voices for Children, Guardian ad Litem can help provide those other essential needs.

“It’s such an important partnership,” Nigro said of the relationship between Voices for Children and the Clerk of the Circuit Court.

“We rely on citizens in the community to help children in need,” he added, noting that the agency is always in need of volunteers to help those going through the court system.

He said most anyone could be a Guardian.

They do need to clear a Level 2 background check and have a reliable means of transportation, and also must complete 30 hours of pre-service training, which will resume in January.

SafeSpace CEO Jill Borowicz, too, expressed appreciation for the jurors’ donations.

“This really helps us to provide a safe haven” for women, children – and yes, men – who need to escape unsafe conditions.

SafeSpace is the only certified domestic violence shelter in the Treasure Coast and half of those who currently call the shelter home come from St. Lucie County, Borowicz said. Currently, nearly three dozen children are in the shelter.

The partnership with the Clerk of the Circuit Court is critical to SafeSpace. “They really assist us to keep our doors open,” Borowicz said.

Along with a constant need for financial donations, the shelter is seeking non-perishable food items as well as toys, wrapping paper, clothing, furniture and home goods.

“Little things make it easier” for those in the shelter to make the transition to a safe life on their own.

 

Volunteers, too, are always in demand. Anyone interested in volunteering for SafeSpace is encouraged to call Volunteer and Resource Coordinator Janet Farnan-Dyer at the administration center, 772-223-2399.

Those who are victims of domestic violence and need to escape are encouraged to call the SafeSpace hotline, which is manned 24/7 by a human – not machine, 772-228-7023.

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