CASA making comeback in Boyle, Mercer

March 15, 2004|GARY MOYERS

A once-vital volunteer advocacy group for children in Boyle and Mercer counties is about to make a comeback.

CASA, an acronym for Court Appointed Special Advocate, is reorganizing with help from Woodlawn Children's Home, several volunteer advisors and Family Court Judge Bruce Petrie.

"The new venture was begun in June of last year at the request of Judge Petrie and the state CASA headquarters," said David Hall, and Centre College professor and chairman of the new CASA at Woodlawn advisory council. "There is a great, great need for this program in our counties, and we have been very cautious to make sure we're doing it the right way."

Originally, CASA in Boyle and Mercer counties was formed in 1997. The local chapter was stripped of its national and state affiliation in March, 2003, however because national workers found, after several visits to the office, that the local group was not in compliance with national standards. CASA also found that then-director Stephen Hoeck was doing most the work himself or using a paid staff, though CASA is supposed to be supported mainly with volunteers.


The next blow came in June, 2003, when Hoeck was indicted on two counts of first-degree sexual abuse and one count of first-degree cruel punishment. In both, the victim was a male under 12 years old, according to the indictment. That case is still working its way through the court system.

"We're doing things differently now," said Hall. "We've affiliated ourselves with Woodlawn, and everyone knows their reputation for helping children who need help."

Brent Blevins, a CASA board member and representative from Woodlawn, said his group will handle background checks for volunteers as well as administrative chores and training.

"This project was a perfect fit for Woodlawn's commitment to outreach services for children," said Blevins. "We were searching for a project, and when we heard about what David and Judge Petrie were doing, our board immediately elected to jump on board."

According to its mission statement, CASA at Woodlawn is committed to advancing "the best interests of abused and neglected children in the Mercer/Boyle County Family Court system through the training and support of community volunteers who serve as court appointed advocates working with the child, the family, and the court."

Petrie says the group is a vital participant in ensuring juveniles in the court system don't fall through the cracks.

"CASA volunteers are the eyes and ears for the court," he said. "Each volunteer becomes involved with one child, ensuring that the child always has an adult voice and companion. The court system can be a terrifying ordeal for children, and CASA volunteers let each child know someone is there for them."

Hall said the group has secured startup funding with help from grant writers Kathy Belcher and Alex Blevins.

"We were actually floundering a bit after our initial work, down to two people," said Hall. "But when Woodlawn came on board in October, we got a huge jump-start. Then we picked up some additional volunteers, and things started falling into place."

The group hopes to hire a full or part-time director by July 15.

"Our next step is to secure a provisional charter from the state CASA organization," said Blevins. "Then we hope to have working volunteers by September."

Volunteers for CASA must make a major commitment, Susan Hensley said.

"It's like a part-time job," she said. "The training involves 40 hours, and volunteers can expect to be needed an average of 10 hours per week."

The director will handle volunteer training and day-to-day operational matters in conjunction with Woodlawn, while the 25-member advisory council will work to secure operational funding.

Nationally, CASA began in the 1980s, according to its Web site, under the direction of a Seattle judge who wanted trained community volunteers to speak for children in court. In 1990, the U.S. Congress passed the Victims of Child Abuse Act, encouraging the formation of CASA chapters nationally. Now there are more than 900 CASA programs nationwide, with 70,000 women and men serving as CASA volunteers. The first Kentucky chapter was formed in 1985 in Jefferson County.

The 25 local board members are: David Hall, chairman; Pam Baughman, vice chairman; Brad Underwood, treasurer; Trina McFarland, secretary; Liz Wisman, philanthropic chair; Brent Blevins, Woodlawn; Susan Hensley, Woodlawn; Lee Martin, Woodlawn; James Atkins; Alex Blevins; Bruce Brown; Cindy Brown; Robert Brown; Don Carney; Jeni Colter; Helen Dedman; Rosetta Johnson; Joey Kirk; Lesley Lawson; Ashley McGraw; Jane McKune; Adam Miller; Tena Perry; David Robertson; Carol Dean Walters; Rachelle Wafer; and Kathy Yurchisin.

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