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Guardianship offers structure, hope to tribal members

HOLLYWOOD — The tribe’s Advocacy and Guardianship department might not be one of the most well known, but its staff wants tribal members to know they’re available to help in a variety of ways.

The department is part of the tribe’s Health and Human Services department, and is divided into Tribal Family and Child Advocacy (TFCA) and Guardianship. A new guardianship ordinance was approved this year by Tribal Council and went into effect in August. The new ordinance sends guardianship cases through Tribal Court instead of Tribal Council.

“A family member can be a guardian or the guardianship department can be the guardian,” Debra Ray, the Advocacy and Guardianship administrator, said.

Ray said tribal members can be placed under guardianship for a variety of reasons, including substance abuse issues, financial instability, or as is most often seen among seniors, a cognitive issue like dementia. Guardianship placement can be voluntary or involuntary.

“Once the court deems that a person falls under one of those categories, they are appointed a guardian to address those limitations,” Trecia McCleese, the guardianship program lead who works with Ray, said. “The ultimate goal being that they get off of guardianship and are able to lead more productive lives – a life that they can be happy with.”

In the case of those with cognitive issues, McCleese said that the goal is that the client is kept as comfortable as possible and gets the ongoing care they need.

‘I’m very grateful’

Delphine Jimmie from the Hollywood Reservation said she entered the guardianship program in order to deal with financial and substance abuse issues.

“The money was my downfall each time I tried to get sober,” Jimmie said. “Thanks to the guardianship program I’m
coming up on a year and nine months clean. It really benefitted me; I’m very grateful for the program.”

Delphine Jimmie (Courtesy photo)

Jimmie, 34, found out about the tribe’s program from a case manager at Caron Renaissance in Boca Raton where she was in rehabilitation.

“[Guardianship] helped me manage my money, pay my out of state fines and guided me to help build my credit and pay my taxes,” she said.

Jimmie has transitioned out of rehabilitation and now runs a support group – White Bison – helping others who’ve had issues similar to hers. Jimmie said she can also drive a vehicle legally again after 10 years.

“I was so ungrateful and now I’m going to be the best driver on the road,” she said with a chuckle. “Taking Uber all the time is very frustrating.”

Jimmie said she recently got custody of two of her daughters and is working on doing the same with her youngest daughter. The guardianship program also referred her to the tribe’s education department. She completed her high school equivalency and is now taking online classes in social work at Palm Beach State.

‘Used to live a crazy life’

Solita Perez grew up on the Immokalee and Big Cypress reservations and now lives in Moore Haven with two of her children where she just purchased a home. She got married six months ago and is working on getting custody of her other three children.

“I used to live a crazy life back in the day – running the streets and going to jail and using [drugs],” Perez said.

Perez said she ended up in jail in 2014, was placed on probation, and later entered a substance abuse treatment program. However, she said she violated her probation and had an active warrant for her arrest for several years. She said she got pregnant and after she had her baby she went from the hospital to jail. An advocate from the tribe contacted her about the guardianship program toward the end of 2017.

“I was pissed the first two years [on the program]; I’ve been on it for four years now,” she said. “At first I thought: ‘Y’all just want to tell me what to do with my money and get in my business.’ I didn’t want to listen to anybody and do my own thing and do what I wanted with my money.”

Solita Perez with daughter Jaidah. (Courtesy photo)

Perez, 31, said she eventually got into a rhythm and found “big support and huge help” from her guardianship advocate at the tribe.

“If you actually try, things will go your way,” she said. “My advocate said: ‘I’m not doing this to hurt or harm you or give you a hard time, it’s to help you. I’m going to stick with you. Why don’t you cooperate and see?’”

Perez said she’s receiving her tribal dividends again, but is subject to random drug screening and has to provide receipts and bank statements to her tribal advocate.

“I don’t mind anymore because I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m in this to do the right things for me and my family,” she said.

Perez said she also goes to aftercare support and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

“I’ve been through a lot and grew up very fast. If I didn’t get on guardianship I wouldn’t be the person I am now, I’d be dead or locked up,” she said.

For more information, contact Ray at (954) 965-1338, ext. 13219 or McCleese at (954) 965-1314, ext. 10396.

Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at