Franciscan Health’s partnership with the Lake County Courts to provide volunteer advocates for elderly and incapacitated adults who are unable to represent themselves now has four new members.

Lake Superior Court Probate Commissioner Ben Ballou swore in a class of four Volunteer Advocates for Seniors and Incapacitated Adults (VASIA) in a ceremony Nov. 30. Jack E. Dusek, Jr. of Munster, Renee Gougis of Calumet City, Cynthia Moore of Gary and Rhonda Smith of Hammond were sworn in during the ceremony at Lake Superior Court.

“The program is so vital to the community,” Ballou said. “You’re a voice for those who don’t have a voice and who aren’t being taken care of properly. We greatly appreciate all the VASIA program does.”

The court collaborates with Franciscan Health to provide trained, supervised volunteers to serve as court-appointed agents to assist elderly and incapacitated adults. The program, now in its 21st year, partners with programs serving elderly and incapacitated adults across Lake County to develop a continuum of elder law advocacy and guardianship services.

Volunteers are vetted through an application screening process. Once approved, volunteers must complete 40 hours of initial training and 12 hours of continuing education annually by legal, social service, health and mental health experts. Advocates serve as guardians on one case at a time.

“We’re excited for you four wonderful people,” VASIA Director LaVonne Jarrett said. “This will begin a new journey for you with Franciscan VASIA.”

Franciscan Health Foundation Development Director MinDee Richard said the volunteers are truly making a difference.

“You’re going to be that person in someone’s life that lets them know they’re not alone in the world,” Richard said. “You may save their life in more ways than one.”

The volunteers all said they had different reasons for joining the program. Gougis, a three-year cancer survivor, said she knows how it feels to need help.

“I appreciate all the people I had with me who supported me through the process,” Gougis said. “This is my journey now. This is what I’m meant to do.”

Dusek said he remembers watching his mother suffer with Alzheimer’s and seeing the benefits of having someone to help.

“For the last few years, she was confused and scared,” Dusek said. “I could help her, remind her, make her happy. Hopefully, I can bring joy to someone’s life.”

Moore worked for a home care agency and had a client who was in need of an advocate. That experience drove her to become a VASIA volunteer herself. Smith serves as a volunteer at Franciscan Health Dyer five days a week and said it is one of her greatest joys in life. Being a VASIA volunteer, she said, will expand on that joy of giving.

“I get so much back from that,” Smith said.

Lake Superior Court Judge Bruce Parent credited attorney and former Lake County Probate Commissioner America McAlpin for her work in helping to launch the VASIA program in 2001, “with a lot of help and support from the legal community and Franciscan.”

“You do God’s work here,” Parent said. “It’s bigger than anything I do in court here.”

The VASIA program is partially funded by grants from the Indiana Supreme Court, Legacy Foundation, Inc. and other local, state and national funders and individual donors.

To donate to support VASIA’s efforts, go to To learn more about the program and how to become a volunteer, visit