The loss of birth parents as a result of adoption sets the stage for the feelings of loss and abandonment that many adopted persons may experience at some point in their lives, say psychologists.
However, that’s not the case for Tribune Tribute honoree Judith Howard, a professional Yadkin County resident with a track record of giving back to the community.
“Understanding who I am means connecting to my beginning,” said Howard. “I was only three days old when I was given to the greatest family on earth, my parents Helen and Jack Howard.”
The adoption was a textbook procedure. Howard said she was placed into the hands of her new parents. The Howards never looked back, but on occasion growing up would share with their daughter the glee and admiration they’ve experienced when Judith was placed in their lives.
Born in El Paso, Texas, Judith migrated to Yakin County 25 years ago. She’s nestled on a 50 acre farm. Judith is now 58 years old and married husband Scott back in 1989.
“We have a hobby farm. We have horses and pig, some goat, even some donkeys,” she said.
Howard doesn’t have a affluent life, but the retired information technology specialist from Wachovia of 22 years will tell you that she knows she’s lived a privileged life compared to others.
“I owe so much to how rounded I’ve become, watching my mom and dad work their entire life teaching me strong values, watching me grow,” expressed Howard.
The pursuit of a strong education was instilled in Howard, a Villanova graduate with a master’s in philosophy.
“Talk about having a career shift, right? joked Howard. “I was taught that too, you can always change your mind and I did shifting from philosophy and getting into the information technology field.”
However, steady through it all, Howard says she finds volunteerism as one of her most desired connections. It’s become a habit. Howard has spent countless hours combating illiteracy. She’s stretched out at Forsyth Tech as a volunteer teaching people how to read for many years.
“It’s a misconception to think that only immigrants need to learn English,” said Howard. “I mostly taught people who already were pretty fluent in English, many Americans who simply didn’t know how to read. Through it all, I felt like I had to do it, I needed to step up and volunteer.”
“One of the more obvious reasons why people volunteer is because they find something they are passionate about and want to do something good for others,” said Josh Cowen of Volunteer America. “People who volunteer in their community have a personal attachment to the area and want to make it a better place for themselves and for others. People who have themselves struggled with social issues usually have a certain empathy for those in a similar situation and will often wish to help out. Many people who volunteer think that they are very fortunate to live the way they do and want to give something back to society, as a way of balancing the scales.”
Nowadays for Howard, it’s all about the children, she says. Howard was recently sworn in as a guardian ad litem for Judicial District 23 serving Yadkin County.
No surprise, it’s an all-volunteer position.
More than 1,500 abused and neglected children in North Carolina go to court without someone to advocate just for them, according to the North Carolina Court System. Kids from Elkin and Jonesville are not immune to abuse.
Howard said, “I asked myself, could I be a fair child’s advocate in court? Could I speak up for their best interests? Could I work side by side with other officials and agencies? However, the biggest question I answered was if I was for the child? Overwhelmingly, I said yes to it all.”
“Thoughout the state hundreds of children are under court supervision,” said Tammy A. Baity, a guardian ad litem program assistant for Judicial District 23. “I have seen Judith’s work, her passion, the countless hours she spends to protect kids. She’s remarkable.”
According to the judicial program, most children have been abandoned or removed from their homes because of abuse and neglect, and placed with relatives, foster parents or in group homes. To ensure children like these are heard within the state’s child protection bureaucracy, the state requires that the courts appoint each one a guardian ad litem, an independent advocate.
“It’s a huge responsibility,” said Howard. “I take my cases very seriously.”
However, unlike the name would suggest, guardian ad litems are not guardians who care for children. They are instead investigators and expert witnesses who look out for a child’s interests and are able to testify in court.
“It means I have to be visible to the child; I must observe things for myself,” said Howard “and fight to the end to protect the best interest of the child.”
Howard is aware of critics who argue that guardian ad litems are given too much authority and almost always lean toward keeping kids away from parents as opposed to restoring families.
However, like a skilled spokesperson, Howard disagreed. Though Howard would not give specifics on any case, she did state that she has seen many frightening conditions and situations locally that leave her no choice but to permanently remove children from parents.
“Ultimately, it’s in the hands of the judge to make the right decision,” she said. “It’s easier teaching English, but saving a kid is a calling for me.”
Another journey may be coming soon for Howard, possibly being a parent herself.
“I have no children,” said Howard. “Scott and I passed that road. Maybe adoption is something we might consider. If we decide that we want to pursue adoption, I’ve had a pretty good example of it. It starts with completely opening your heart.
We may become foster parents instead,” said Howard. “My heart is in what I do, and I think my husband and I can open up our home, as well. We’re talking about it.
“Volunteering is great, and it takes remarkable effort,” she said, “But it makes a huge difference.”