CRESTVIEW — More than 40 people visited Twin Hills Park on Sunday for the 7th annual Forgotten Child Ceremony.

The event was sponsored by the Guardian Ad Litem Program, which supports neglected children in the court system by appointing a volunteer child advocate to campaign for the child's best interests, according to the GAL website. The program's mission is "I am for the child."

Carita Smith, GAL recruitment and events coordinator in Okaloosa and Walton counties, said there are more than 2,000 children in dependent care across Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton counties.

"We don't look at the totality of the family, we look at what's in the best interest of the child," Smith said. "We're going to advocate what's in the best interest for that child from education to visitation to living situation."

Currently, one of the groups biggest challenges is finding enough volunteers to represent the children, Smith said.

"You can find the housewife that wants to help, you can find the retired grandma who wants to help and give back, but it's difficult for us to get males and it's difficult for us to get the quantity that we need," she said.

During the ceremony, which included musical performances and speakers, guests were invited to light candles in remembrance of neglected children whose "light was taken too soon." Attendees also got a chance to cast flowers into a nearby lake in honor of children represented by the organization.

Gregory Matthews, a Crestview resident and friend of Smith who helped set up the event, said it was nice to host an ceremony to highlight what the Guardian ad Litem program does.

"It's a good feeling to help out with the program," Matthews said.

Looking ahead, he hoped events like the ceremony would spread the word about the organization, leading to more volunteers willing to stand up for children in unsafe or abusive environments.

"We need people ... to stand up and say 'for this child, I would, for that child I would,'" Smith said. "It makes no difference — race, color, creed — none of that is important. What's important is that a child has a happy, healthy childhood."

For more information on the group, visit guardianadlitem.org. Those interested in volunteering can contact Smith at 689-5060 and Carita.Smith@gal.fl.gov.