Press release by Franciscan Health:

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 six new members.

Lake Superior Court Probate Commissioner Ben Ballou swore in the new class of Volunteer Advocates for Seniors and Incapacitated Adults (VASIA) in a ceremony May 17. Ramona Daniel, Sherri Ervin, Michele Meacham and Bob Overland, all of Merrillville, were sworn in during the ceremony at Lake Superior Court along with Mike Southworth of Crown Point. Roxanne Pluskis of Dyer is a member of the new class and will be sworn in at a later date.

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 22nd year, partners with programs serving elderly and incapacitated adults across Lake County to develop a continuum of elder law advocacy and guardianship services.

“We are so proud of each and every one of you,” VASIA Director LaVonne Jarrett said. “This is a very special group. Every single one of them brings so much to the table already.”

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.

“I can’t thank you enough for taking time out of your lives to help people you have no relation to whatsoever,” Ballou said. “The court does appreciate that more than you know.”

Lake Superior Court Judge Bruce Parent said the volunteers, “are really doing God’s work.”

“It has really changed our little corner of the world,” Parent said.

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.

Franciscan Health Foundation Development Director MinDee Richard said community support for the VASIA program is growing.

“I’ve taken care of my parents when they’ve been ill and it is a very lonely and isolating thing sometimes,” Richard said. “Please know that there is a wider community supporting this effort.”

Ervin said after caring for five family members and a child with disabilities, she didn’t think she had the capacity to advocate for anyone else until she found the VASIA program.

“It is so humbling and it grounds me,” Ervin said.

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