by TRACY ZOLLINGER TURNER
Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs) are asked to investigate the circumstances of children who have been abused or neglected, offering the court a broad perspective of what are in the children’s best interests. It is a commitment of time and of one’s heart.
Three volunteers with Monroe County CASA have been making that commitment for more than two decades. Lorraine Merriman, 68, has been a CASA for 21 years. Gail Bridges-Rea, 70, for 23 years. And 88-year-old Harriet “Tarry” Curry has been a CASA volunteer for 25 years.
With each case, the volunteer meets every month with the child involved. They also interview case workers, teachers, doctors, extended family members, and anyone else who might provide insight into the children’s circumstances in order to determine the best course of action going forward.
“CASAs build trust and respect with children,” Merriman says. “Some of these children go through multiple caseworkers. I’ve had children who have moved to different foster homes, which is always so disruptive. But we are the one constant, with rare exception.”
The three say a lot has changed since they started with CASA. Shifts in state laws mean that cases that used to take up to four years to resolve now take just a year or two. Because CASAs are now appointed for every case, they no longer see only “the worst of the worst.”
Working as CASAs has also changed them. “I think it opens your heart and your mind to things you haven’t experienced before,” Merriman says.
Bridges-Rea agrees. “There have been lots of rewards, lots of hurdles, lots of challenges,” she says. “But I saw a child the other day—I was her CASA over 10 years ago—and here was this young lady doing beautifully.”
Says Curry, “I feel like, outside of raising my children and being a good grandmother and great-grandmother, being a CASA is the most important thing I’ve done,”.
Monroe County CASA has an ongoing need for volunteers. For more information, visit monroecountycasa.org.