Longtime volunteer advocates for Polk’s children

Published 10:00 pm Friday, April 7, 2017

TRYON – Elsbeth Luedi has spent the last 20 years volunteering with the Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) program, a nonprofit organization that serves as a voice for children faced with unsafe home environments.

At nearly 80 years old, she has advocated for more than 100 children since she first started volunteering with GAL in 1997. April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month and the GAL program wanted to highlight Luedi for her volunteer service.

A native of Ersigen, Switzerland, a little town near the capital of Bern, Luedi is soft-spoken and yet has a fierce spirit, fighting for children who have been taken away from their parents due to drugs or alcohol abuse.

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Luedi left Switzerland in 1960 when she was 23 with her husband Hans. “I moved to Chicago when he got a job as a mechanical design engineer. He always wanted to leave Switzerland and he got the job from a fraternity brother in Switzerland.”

Luedi said she was scared to move to the United States because she had never been out of the country, much less her hometown, and what she heard about the city was that it was a “gangster town.”

“I was actually surprised about how friendly people were, and I spoke no English,” Luedi recounted. “I was in Chicago for 26 years. We had two children and I was a dental assistant.”

After nine years of being a dental assistant, two of which were in Switzerland, Luedi and her husband moved to Tryon in 1987 after discovering the area accidentally.

“My husband got a job in Cowpens at Southern Fineblanking and we came down for one weekend to look where we might want to live after we knew he had the job,” Luedi recalled. “We drove towards the mountains from Spartanburg, got off at the rest area off I-26 before you get to Tryon and Columbus and asked someone where we could find a house with a view. They said, ‘go up to the exit and left or right.’”

Reading an article about the GAL program in the Tryon Daily Bulletin sparked her curiosity. In 1997 she inquired about it, as she had always wanted to work with kids.

“Once the children are in custody of social services, they call the Guardian Ad Litem office and give a background of the case. The volunteers are appointed by the courts to investigate and visit the children once a month,” she explained.

Parents have to follow a set of guidelines put forth by the court ranging from attending anger management classes to drug abuse prevention, according to Luedi.

“We check on the parents and the children in schools to see how they are doing,” Luedi said, “and we put together court reports to submit to the judge. We check on the living quarters before the kids can come back. It gets, at times, very frustrating.”

Seeing parents not doing what they are supposed to do according to the courts is what Luedi referred to as the “frustrating” part of her job. This leads to children having to stay in foster care for longer periods of time.

“I don’t like seeing parents not doing what they are supposed to do. We have too many cases in Polk County of children in foster care,” Luedi emphasized. “If the children are old enough, we ask them what they would like to have happen, and we put that in the court report for the judge. Most of these children state they want to go back home.”

Luedi explained she has stuck with the program for two decades to provide a voice for children and help parents build better relationships.

“I don’t think people in this county realize how many children need help,” Luedi indicated. “There are so many children that are pulled out of their families. It’s just too many and it’s sad. People are sort of sheltered and are not really aware of this.”

Aside from working with the GAL program, Luedi said she has “an addiction to knitting” and likes to use it as a stress reliever. She also attends the Congregational Church in Tryon and has since coming to Tryon in 1987.

“Helping people is the main thing, I guess that’s just my nature,” Luedi explained. “When the children have a reunion with the parents and they stick with it, that’s gratifying. If they get adopted into a good family, that’s also a success.”