Sergeant Angie Hogeboom, an investigator with the Walton County Sheriff's Office, chose to enter law enforcement after spending four years in foster care with her brother as a young girl.



At the age of seven, she was adopted by "a wonderful family," the mother of three recalled. Today, it takes a team of hard-working individuals to provide these happy endings.



As a way to pay it forward and to help save the lives of children in crisis, Hogeboom, entered the Guardian ad Litem volunteer program.



"Since working with Captain Charisse Rivers on criminal investigations, it is a cause that has become dear to my heart," Hogeboom said. "It probably would've made a big difference in my life."



A Guardian ad Litem is a court-appointed volunteer who represents the best interests of a child during case proceedings. Training involves 30 hours of court observation, classroom and video instruction and in some cases, pairing up with a mentor. Guardian ad Litem volunteers visit with their child, or in some cases children, once a month and write a report at each visit to provide recommendations to the child's case manager at Department of Families.



"First and foremost, they are advocates for the children," explained Rosemary Ash, circuit director for Guardian ad Litem.  "They advocate holistically, doing whatever they can to improve the child's life."



In Ash's circuit, which covers Escambia to Walton County, are 1,750 children, 150 of which live here in Walton County. There are only 581 guardians 28 in Walton County alone. With those kinds of numbers, guardians are often representing more than one child.



"Ninety-eight percent of children are represented by a guardian," Ash said. "It is our goal to see that raised to 100. The quality goes up when you only have one child."



In some cases, children are left without a guardian.



"Almost 500 kids don't have a guardian," Ash said. "I worry about those kids that don't have anyone taking care of them."



Inside the DeFuniak Springs courthouse last month, Hogeboom and four other WCSO deputies were sworn in as Guardian ad Litems. It's the first time law enforcement officers in the state of Florida have volunteered with the program.



"I am very proud," said WSCO Sheriff Mike Adkinson. "Ultimately this is what we believe in, supporting the well-being of children."  



Having volunteers with a background in law enforcement helps bring a level of expertise to the cause, said Ash.



"They have an understanding of people and people in crisis," she said. "It's a wonderful match."



Before swearing-in the group, Judge Kelvin Wells said a few words, referring to Guardian ad Litems as "angels."



"Some of the stories you hear will break your heart," he said.



For Hogeboom, being in the Guardian ad Litem program is another way to help people.



"To give kids a brighter future," she said.



She even inspired her husband, Sergeant Scott Hogeboom, to become a Guardian ad Litem.



"I'm doing this because of what my wife went through," he said. "This program is making a difference for children."  



For more information on Guardian ad Litem, visit www.guardianadlitem.org.