Matt Raymond

Sometimes a case comes along that defies all assumptions. That’s what happened to Matt Raymond, when he took on a new CASA case in 2012.

An infant boy who was born with fetal alcohol syndrome had endured broken bones and fractures. The mother was an alcoholic facing criminal charges, and the professionals working the case were pessimistic about the outcome. They did not expect the mother to recover. If the baby lived, he was likely to be placed for adoption.

The situation was so troubling that Matt’s supervisor hesitated to propose the case to him. Several volunteers had already turned it down due to the gruesome nature of the abuse. Matt, however, had a different reaction. He felt he could not look away from a child who needed so much help. “I definitely knew it was something I wanted to do.”

Matt advocated as part of a team with the social worker, Guardian ad litem, and a detective. He built a strong rapport with the professionals that allowed him to gather the information needed for his court reports. The team also provided the mother with the support she needed to recover from her addiction. “She did all she was court ordered to do and more,” Matt reflected on the mother’s progress. “I was blown away by how she turned this thing around.” The case closed with the infant returned to his mother’s care. Matt still receives notes from the mother with photos and updates on the child.

The CASA experience has been so rewarding for Matt that he got his workplace, SRA, involved in the Run for the Children. Over the past two years, the SRA team has raised over $24,000 for Fairfax CASA. Matt even inspired his family to travel from Pennsylvania to walk in the race and raise funds. “Working with CASA has changed the way I look at my own life,” says Matt about his desire to support the program. “I realize how lucky I have been.”

Alicia Ritchie photo

For Alicia Ritchie, becoming a CASA volunteer was like entering a whole new world.

The specialist in international economic development had just retired from a 30-year career when she looked into volunteering with the CASA program. Although eager to volunteer, Alicia was unfamiliar with the child welfare system and working with traumatized children. Nothing she had encountered on the job or as a parent had prepared her for this type of work.

Nevertheless, Alicia immersed herself in her case, advocating for two young boys whose parents were cited for neglect. The parents spoke little English, were undocumented, and struggled to address the boys’ needs at home and at school. The mother’s cognitive issues made the case even more challenging.

Alicia credits her confidence to the extensive training that she received. “I felt supported from the very beginning,” says Alicia. CASA volunteers receive 36 hours of pre-service training and must complete 12 hours of continuing education annually to remain certified. In 2013, volunteers also received educational advocacy training to assist them in monitoring a child’s academic needs.

The educational advocacy training applied directly to Alicia’s case. Both boys experienced learning and behavioral problems due to severe ADHD. Alicia checked in frequently with teachers and attended special education meetings. She noticed that the school staff became more engaged when they realized that someone was invested in the boys ’progress. “Schools respond when they know there is interest in the kids.” She encouraged the parents to become more involved. The father now does homework with the boys and checks their school work.

Cuban-born Alicia knows that her fluency in Spanish has also been an asset on this case. The parents normally rely on translators to communicate. “I don’t know how a non-Spanish speaking CASA could have done it.”

With the case set to close soon, Alicia reflected that what might have been tough – advocating in an unknown field – turned out to be manageable and rewarding. “The hard part is knowing I cannot solve every problem for these boys. The children have a lot not going their way. Their lives are not going to be easy.” But because of court intervention, “their lives are better.”

The Ragers feel very strongly about giving back to the community. For them, CASA volunteering is “frustrating, heartbreaking, humbling − and most of all rewarding.” 

The RagersAt Fairfax CASA’s Light of Hope Volunteer Appreciation Celebration, Executive Director Lisa Banks presented the program’s highest honor, the May Cook Heart of Gold Award, on Ed and Patti Rager.

The Ragers, the first couple ever to receive the award, were sworn in as CASA volunteers in 2007. For Ed, CASA volunteering has allowed him to have an impact on those who are at the beginning of their lives. For Patti, the experience has allowed the retired pediatric nurse to renew her connection with children.

Ed and Patti have served on multiple cases, including one with a family of seven children ranging in age from one to nine when the case began. The Ragers committed themselves to advocating for each child’s particular needs. They became involved in all aspects of their lives, never failing to visit each of them, no matter where they were.

Supervisor MaryAnn Wohlford praised the Ragers for their ”commitment, insight, and advocacy for these children. Combined with their collaborative approach, Ed and Patti have gained the respect of all the professionals.” Among many accolades, one Guardian ad litem described the Ragers as “a wonderful representation of all that is good in CASA.”

The Ragers feel very strongly about giving back to the community. For them, CASA volunteering is “frustrating, heartbreaking, humbling − and most of all rewarding.”

CASA Volunteer Sheila Morris

Sheila Morris “I call her jellybean.”

That’s the nickname CASA Volunteer Sheila Morris uses for the teenage girl for whom she advocates. Now almost 18, the teen first came to the court’s attention when her parents neglected to care for her progressive neurological disease. It’s a challenging case, as the girl also struggles with mental health issues and needs special care.

Sheila is a constant figure in the young girl’s life, following her through multiple foster homes and repeated hospitalizations. “Whenever I appear for a visit in a new place, she asks, ‘How did you know I was here?’ These children have learned not to count on people. To realize that someone is always keeping track of them, that’s not something they take for granted.”

The path towards becoming a CASA volunteer started in 2005, when Sheila saw a notice in the paper for an information session. The program sounded interesting – Sheila studied early childhood education and loves children – but she was raising two boys, working, and did not have time to volunteer. She cut out the notice and placed it in her desk drawer, pulling it out now and then and debating whether the time was right for CASA. In 2010 she decided to take the plunge.

As a CASA volunteer, Sheila values her ability to keep other team members in the loop. “I often have a piece of information that I assume the others have and then find out they do not.” Just recently, she learned that the girl would not be graduating from high school before her eighteenth birthday. Sheila notified the social worker to ensure that the girl would continue to receive services, even after she aged out of the system.

Another proud achievement? The smile on her teen’s face when she uses her nickname. “She was called Jellybean as a young child. When I call her that now I get to enjoy her wonderful impetuous laugh. Those moments of joy are priceless.”

“I love my job because no day is ever the same. It is a blessing to see how a strong volunteer team can make a long lasting impact on a child’s life!”

CorrineCongratulations to Corrine Cavaliere, our Project Associate, who is celebrating her 10th anniversary on staff at Fairfax CASA.

Anyone who has stopped by the CASA office knows Corrine. She is the welcoming figure in the front office who takes the time to learn every volunteer’s name and make sure that they have the resources they need. Always organized, Corrine juggles a host of case-related tasks each day, from ensuring that unassigned hearings are covered to running background checks. She is often referred to as the “glue” that holds the office together.

Corrine enjoys the small office environment and the shared commitment to an important cause that characterize the CASA work. “I love my job because no day is ever the same. It is a blessing to see how a strong volunteer team can make a long lasting impact on a child’s life,” says Corrine.

Thank you Corrine for your hard work over these 10 years! Our CASA family would not be the same without you!

“I feel like I am planting seeds for the future.”

Jenn Baker-When it comes to being a CASA volunteer, Jennifer Baker finds her greatest reward in the sustained and individual nature of the work. “It’s not like tutoring, for example, where you work with whatever child walks through the door. As a CASA volunteer, you have the ability to build rapport with a child and a family. It is something I really love about CASA.”

A former school teacher who now operates a business in the IT field, Jennifer has spent the past two years advocating for the best interests of three young children. She has watched their steady progress towards reunification with their mother, and has enjoyed the entire family’s continuing growth. Along the way, Jennifer has made her own mark with the children by stressing the importance of education and talking about what they might want to be when they grow up. “I feel like I am planting seeds for the future. I am trying to help them understand that there is a big world out there.”

It turns out that CASA volunteering is just one of Jennifer’s many volunteer roles. She has been a community leader in her hometown of Herndon, working with the Holiday Homes Tour Committee, Friday Night Live, the Herndon Council for the Arts and the Herndon Festival. She is also a member of the Philanthropic Educational Organization (P.E.O.) dedicated to promoting and funding educational opportunities for women around the world. Not surprisingly, Jennifer was part of a group recognized for service to the Town during the Mayor’s Volunteer Appreciation ceremony last year!

Jennifer is now directing her considerable energy at a run for Town Council of Herndon. “Herndon has the charm of a small town,” she says, “a place where you can know your neighbors and walk to local shops and restaurants and yet have access to the cultural and business opportunities of a city like Washington. I love it and want to protect the history and the intimacy of our home town and still create a place that nurtures the entrepreneurial spirit of small businesses like Green Lizard Cycling.”

Fairfax CASA thanks Jennifer Baker for her service to our community and wishes her luck in her new endeavor!

Journey of a CASA Child

It takes many caring individuals to support abused or neglected children as they journey through the court protection system. In this video, learn more about how and why CASA volunteers share that journey.

Click to read the remaining November 2013 Newsletter articles.

Awarded the May Cook Heart of Gold Award

SandySandy has been a Fairfax CASA volunteer for 20 years. “I can hardly believe it myself,”  says Sandy. Her commitment to CASA was sealed as soon as she received her first case and was introduced to a young Hispanic girl with a long history of sexual abuse. “She immediately gripped my heart. I followed her until she left the system at age 18, and I was even invited to her high school graduation.”

Sandy went on to advocate for 29 children on a total of 15 cases. She is still going strong and currently advocating on two cases at once.

At Fairfax CASA’s Light of Hope Volunteer Appreciation Celebration, Sandy was awarded the May Cook Heart of Gold Award. This award, the program’s highest honor for a CASA Volunteer, was inaugurated in memory of May Cook. May served as a CASA volunteer for six years before she died in 2000. A retired grandmother, May was a child of the foster care system and knew firsthand what a tough life that can be.

For Sandy, the May Cook award has special significance. “I was extremely honored to receive the May Cook award. I remember thinking the first time they [Fairfax CASA] gave it out how special it was for the CASA Volunteer who received it. And now 20 years later it is especially meaningful because I, too, am a grandmother – just like May Cook.

Watch the Highlights

 
Enjoy the highlights from Fairfax CASA’s June 27 Swearing in Ceremony for new volunteers. This video clip offers a glimpse of how the evening unfolds as everyday citizens pledge an oath to serve as Court Appointed Special Advocates for abused and neglected children.
 

Why I Run for the Children each year…

Chern - insideI am Melissa, a real estate consultant with Keller Williams Realty, and on Saturday, May 3, I will continue a tradition that has become very important to me, I will Run for the Children.

Why do I run? My reasons are like a pledge that I have taken on behalf of abused and neglected children here in Fairfax County – and everywhere.

~I run because abused and neglected children are innocent victims who need someone to stand beside them in the unfamiliar world of child protection.

~I run because each child deserves a chance to grow up feeling safe and supported in a family they can call their own.

~I run because I believe that each of us can make a difference in the life of a child, even if it is just by gathering in support of their future on one day each year.

~I run because I was that child who needed a CASA volunteer to believe in me and fight for my future…

My twin sister and I were placed in foster care at age two; it was a scary and lonely time. We were adopted by a lovely couple at age five, but it was not an easy transition. I believe that my early years might have been very different if a CASA volunteer had been there, getting to know me, my sister, and my foster parents, talking with my social worker, and fighting for my needs when they were overlooked.

Every abused and neglected child has the right to an advocate who will stand by their side. I hope you will join me on May 3 and help support the Fairfax CASA volunteers who are there for children, making sure that they have a chance to grow up just like any other child, with safety, security, and love.

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