Tilley to receive Big Voice for Children Award tonight
by Jon Gargis
Nov 12, 2010 | 2428 views | 0 0 comments | 21 21 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Bartow County Juvenile Court Judge Velma Tilley will receive tonight one of the 2010 Big Voice for Children awards, which recognizes the actions of Georgians making a difference in children’s lives. The awards are presented by advocacy group Voices for Georgia’s Children.  SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News, File
Bartow County Juvenile Court Judge Velma Tilley will receive tonight one of the 2010 Big Voice for Children awards, which recognizes the actions of Georgians making a difference in children’s lives. The awards are presented by advocacy group Voices for Georgia’s Children. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News, File
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Velma Tilley says it came out of the blue, and she likely won't know who was responsible for it until tonight.

Tilley, who serves as Bartow County's juvenile court judge, will receive during a dinner at the Four Seasons in Atlanta one of the 2010 Big Voice for Children awards. Children's advocacy group Voices for Georgia's Children announced last week the recipients of the awards, which will honor Tilley and five other individuals and one organization in Georgia whose actions are making a difference for kids.

"I'm really honored. It was a total surprise to me," Tilley said. "I don't know the specific person [who nominated me], but I know it was my colleagues that are on the Northwest Georgia System of Care Advisory Council. We have a group that meets every second Friday of the month, and we have been for the last eight years trying to make sure that seriously mentally ill children have the services that they need."

Tilley serves as the judicial co-chair with NGSCAC, a role cited by Voices in the group's release announcing the winners. Voices for Georgia's Children, a network member of the national organization Voices for America's Children, is an independent, nonprofit advocacy organization speaking up for the well-being of the state's children. Its aim is to be a primary information source and advocate, assisting leaders and citizens of Georgia in making sound decisions on policy, investment and systems that serve children and youth.

Voices also noted Tilley as being one of three authors of a model code that launched efforts to modernize Georgia's Juvenile Code. Tilley said those efforts began years ago and stemmed from her days during the earlier part of her legal career. She previously served as the special assistant attorney general representing Bartow County Department of Family and Children Services in the local juvenile court for more than 11 years before becoming the county's juvenile court judge in 2000.

"As I was the lawyer, I would say crazy things like, 'If somebody would just give me three months off, I would rewrite this juvenile code,' because it was all haphazard and random," she said. "Well, somebody kind of took me up on that, but it took a whole lot longer than three months.

"Several years ago ... there was a proposal from the Young Lawyers Division of the State Bar to draft a model code, and so they hired a younger lawyer to be the researcher on it, then they asked me to be one of the three people, and then they got a professor who used to be at Emory but now is from LSU, the law school there, and the three of us together over a period of years put together what was called the model code, and that was a re-draft of the entire juvenile code," Tilley added. She said the proposed regulations are now being discussed in legislative hearings.

Tilley said that while she is unsure of what specific effort may have earned her the nomination, she expects to find out who put forth her name at tonight's event.

"We have a very tight-knit little group [in the NGSCAC]. I don't know why they would nominate me. It's a very hard-working group; I don't know why'd they'd single me out. But I am honored, very honored," Tilley said. "[Voices has] a video -- they came up here and not only recorded me, but they recorded other people saying things, so I'll be interested to see what they have to say, and then I'll know why the nominated me."

An awards committee selected each Big Voice for Children Award honoree based on nominations from community members across the state. Other winners include Dennis Lockhart, president of the Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank, and Dr. Beverly Tatum, president of Spelman College, co-chairs of the United Way Early Education Commission; Children's Healthcare of Atlanta; Dr. Veda Johnson, an Atlanta pediatrician known for her development of the Whitefoord Clinic in East Atlanta; and Sam Mitchell and Marc Upshaw, boyhood friends from Columbus who have made a commitment to the city's children through their SaMarc Dream and Achieve Foundation.

"These 'Big Voices' not only understand the importance of investing in our next generation, they're actively working to make it happen, " Voices Executive Director Pat Willis stated in a news release. "Their work improves lives for thousands of Georgia's children, and that benefits all of us."