CASA pioneers

Chelan-Douglas CASA pioneers, from left, Kathleen Schmidt, Sue Baker, Carol Wardell, and Keith Thrapp.

One of the truly exceptional nonprofits in our region is Court Appointed Child Advocates (CASA) of Chelan and Douglas counties, a nonprofit that is celebrating 25 years of service to some of our most vulnerable children this month.

The organization is poised to make an even bigger impact in the next 25 years, thanks to strong leadership and a host of terrific volunteers and community contributors.

For many kids who are in the middle of dependency hearings, the only stable part of their lives is the CASA volunteer who is independently assessing what would be in the best interest of the child and providing that information to the judge, who makes the final determination.

Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Sue Baker, the founding executive director and Carol Wardell, a former Chelan County Superior Court judge. They were instrumental in getting the program started in 1994.

CASA cases tend to be emotionally wrenching and so the volunteers end up being exposed to some pretty traumatic circumstances. CASA provides them with a significant amount of training and mentoring to help them remain objective and helpful to the process.

The stakes couldn’t be higher. Kids tend to do better with their family unit, but sometimes the parents are incapable of providing a safe environment. “There are cases that suck the life out of you,” Wardell said.

For the 85 volunteers who are working with perhaps 200 plus kids per month, this is not easy. But the strong foundation that was built in the beginning has led to the Chelan-Douglas CASA being recognized as a model program in this state serving every child in our area.

“I’m proud of the program,” Wardell told me. “We have helped a lot of kids have safer places to live and deal with their circumstances,” she added.

In some cases, the CASA volunteers maintain an informal friendship with their charges and a stable part of their life beyond the age if 18, when kids typically cycle out of the program.

Before CASA got started, judges had to rely on the advocacy of attorneys for the parents and state agencies. Kids ought to have the same rights as everybody else, Baker said.

We have a lot of kids living in less than stable situations among us. Research shows that one stable adult can make a world of difference in the life of a child. Of the 1,600-plus cases that CASA handled when Baker ran the organization, imagine how many lives were changed for the better. If you more information or wish to volunteer, access cdcasa.org. Donations can be sent to P.O. Box 2027, Wenatchee, WA 98807.