TAMPA, Fla., (September 12, 2018) What started as a simple request from a judge to find a sports mentor for a child in the Hillsborough County dependency court has evolved into a mentorship program that pairs children with Major League Baseball prospects playing for the Tampa Tarpons.
The Tampa Tarpons Professional Baseball Club is a member of the Florida State League (FSL) and the Class A-Advanced affiliate of the New York Yankees Major League Baseball team. The Tarpons play their home games at George M. Steinbrenner Field from April to September.
Donna Ackerson is a Child Advocate Manager for the Hillsborough County Guardian ad Litem Foundation (GAL). After a hearing for two brothers in the 13th Judicial Court System required her to find a sports mentor, Ackerson and her intern Katerina Fleming, reached out to all the sports teams in the area. She heard back from one organization, the Tampa Tarpons.
“This started as a grassroots effort because I wanted to help two children under my advocacy. I never expected the feedback to be so positive,” says Ackerson.
Currently in its second year, the program has matched 12 children with Tampa Tarpons’ players who provide one-on-one interactions with the youths. The kids get to attend and sit near players during home games; they get to spend time with players during or after practices; and this year the organization took the initiative to tutor a child who was having difficulties learning English.
“The New York Yankees Tampa Foundation has consistently been a strong supporter of Voices for Children and GAL – without their support, programs such as these simply would not exist,” says Tabitha Lambert, Director of the Hillsborough County Guardian ad Litem Program. “In addition to corporate support and partnerships, we are grateful to the hard-working individuals such as Donna Ackerson, who advocates for children in our community.”
While many unrepresented children in the court system go through their childhood without having a positive role model on their side, Ackerson hopes the program can connect more children with like-minded organizations to provide mentors whose lessons will last a lifetime.
“Due to the nature of the Minor Leagues, some of the players do end up getting called-up to the big leagues,” says Ackerson. However she adds, “It’s a big deal for the kids, regardless.”
Historically, the Guardian ad Litem program has struggled to find professional sports programs that could give the boys in the system positive male role models to look up to and to feel inspired by. Now that GAL has this program in place, they would like to expand to female sports organizations as well as other sports organizations that are open to working with the 3,300 abused and neglected children within the system.
All volunteers are welcome, however the number of male volunteers is significantly lower.
While the regular season for the Tampa Tarpons ends on September 2, the program hopes to grow and address their current challenges in time for it to start after next year’s spring training; the biggest challenge being transportation for the children to and from the mentor meetings.
About Guardian ad Litem
The Florida Guardian ad Litem Program is a partnership of community advocates and professional staff providing a powerful voice on behalf of Florida’s abused, abandoned and neglected children. For more information about the Guardian ad Litem program of Hillsborough County, call (813) 272-5110 or visit www.galtampa.org.
About the Tampa Tarpons
The Tampa Tarpons are the Single-A Advanced Affiliate of the New York Yankees. For more information about the Tampa Tarpons, call (813) 673- 3055 or visit TarponsBaseball.com.