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Organization will offer resources, education for legal guardians in Columbia County

SUBMITTED PHOTO - Guardian Partners recently announced an expansion of its programs into Columbia County and held a launch party in March.  Pictured from left to right are Guardian Partners Executive Director Marc Kochanski, Board Vice Chair Sibylle Baer, Columbia Circuit Judge Jenefer Grant, Board President Theressa Hollis, education consultant Holly Berman and Columbia Circuit Judge Ted Grove. Columbia County courts are now partnering with a Portland-based nonprofit that provides training, education and support for court-appointed guardians.

Columbia County Circuit Court is aligning with Guardian Partners as the fifth county system in the state to partner with the nonprofit, and will begin hosting education classes and recruiting volunteers later this year.

The organization's mission is twofold — to help protect elders and people with disabilities from mistreatment, and to provide education and resources for court-appointed legal guardians.

When someone has a diminished mental capacity, whether due to age-related dementia, persistent mental health issues or a disability, and a judge appoints a guardian to care for that individual, courts are often limited in their ability to follow up, Executive Director Marc Kochanski explained.

"We were founded to address that gap," Kochanski said.

Guardian Partners offers free 90-minute education classes to people who have recently been appointed as legal guardians. The classes cover a variety of topics including how to care for the individual, the legal components of guardianship, questions about finances, and more.

"Guardianship can be confusing. People are trying to handle a lot and a lot of people didn't ask for this, so to speak, so they're thrown into it," Kochanski added.

On average, the Columbia County court system fields one to two cases a month where a petition for guardianship has been filed, Columbia County Circuit Judge Jenefer Grant explained. Providing educational outlets for community members will be beneficial for the court as well as the families of persons in need of care.

"I think getting educated about the guardian role will lead to better communication in families struggling to make the best decisions for their incapacitated loved ones," Grant stated in an email to the Spotlight.

In Columbia County, the first class will be offered Saturday, June 22, at the Law Library in St. Helens, which will be taught by attorneys Jim Horn and Maurice Cassidy. A time has not been announced yet.

"The program is a good fit for our county because it is often difficult to recruit neighbors or family members to act as guardians for incapacitated adults here, and we have no public guardian available," Grant noted. "The Guardian Partners classes can provide many answers to questions that keep people from feeling comfortable enough with the role of guardian to volunteer when their services are needed."

In addition to the classes, the program also recruits and trains volunteers to work as case monitors. Those individuals work on a case-by-case basis when a county judge asks someone to intervene or check in, Kochanski noted, and help compile reports thathelp judges decide guardianship cases.

Working with partner agencies like Community Action Team, Department of Human Services, Columbia Community Mental Health, and the senior centers, and by appealing to the public, Grant said they are also hoping to recruit a pool of volunteers who are willing to step in a pool of volunteers who are willing to step in to assist with future case monitor responsibilities.

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