Sue Neff, the 2011 volunteer of the year for the Court Appointed Special Advocate program in Chelan and Douglas counties, choked up when she accepted her award at the Highlander Golf Course clubhouse Tuesday evening. She recounted moments of looking into the eyes of foster children and realizing "you're as scared as they are." Neff is one of more than 80 volunteers who work with abused and neglected children and advocate for their safety and well being. She said with a laugh that the award was a bit of a surprise because of her habit of glaring at attorneys in court from time to time. That drew smiles and nods from the crowd. Earlier that evening, Chelan County Court Commissioner Bart Vandegrift told me how CASA had dramatically improved the quality of decisions by the court in the 17 years the organization has been in existence. Before that time, he said, kids weren't getting adequate representation. Public defenders at that time just added them to their already overloaded schedules. The keynote speaker for the event was state Supreme Court Chief Justice Barbara Madsen. "There are some amazing people in your midst," she told the crowd. "(Kids) that have a CASA have a better chance." Two businesses in the valley earned special awards. Cashmere-based Crunch-Pak was honored for its sponsorship of the annual bowl-a-thon and Alcoa and its employees were honored for their contributions to the annual Christmas stocking project. Of all the volunteers, Stephanie Matthews had the most years of service — sixteen. In listening to the volunteers and speakers, I gained a greater appreciation for the difficulty of the work done by the volunteers. In advocating for kids, at times they have to stand up to the Department of Social and Health Services. At other times, they are at odds with parents. It takes a special kind of person to put themselves in that position and dealing with that level of conflict. This program provides an opportunity to break the cycle of neglect and abuse, which has enormous enormous implications for reducing the need for social services over the long term.
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Follow this video link to see what Justice Barbara Madsen had to say about the local CASA program.