By coincidence, three members of the Class of 1981 and one from the Class of 1980 are helping children by working or volunteering for Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Floyd and Washington Counties. Lorie (Zoeller) Edwards ’81, is a staff advocate for the organization that currently is under the umbrella of St. Elizabeth Catholic Charities. Sue (Crone) Glordan ’81, Maria (Kinder) Triplett ’81, and Ann (Kaiser) Day ’80 are all volunteer advocates.
To hear their stories, however, it seems that God had a hand in calling them to be part of the agency in order to serve as a voice for abused or neglected children in court. Edwards first became a CASA volunteer in 1988 while in law school in California after doing a class project on the then-fledgling organization. Once she got married and started a family, she no longer had time to volunteer until three years ago when she reconnected with CASA and eventually left her job as a paralegal to work for the agency full time. She said she always enjoyed working with children, and the time was right for a change.
“After 30 years in the legal field, I wanted to get back to my passion for working with kids,” said Edwards, who has a caseload of 60 children in Floyd and Washington counties.
Glordan and Triplett are classmates of Edwards, but their connection had little to do with their initial call to become a CASA volunteer. Three years ago, Glordan was looking for “a new volunteer opportunity that would take me out of my comfort zone a bit” and allow her “to connect with those I was serving on a more personal level,” she said. A Sunday homily from a visiting priest on service and answering God’s call resonated with her, and after Mass, she shared with parishioner Brenda Smith Falkenstein ’78 how it had touched her. Falkenstein, who serves on the St. Elizabeth board, invited her to the human service agency’s open house later that week. There, Glordan learned about CASA and immediately signed up.
“I think God’s hand in finding the opportunity was there,” Glordan said.
Triplett signed up in 2017 after reading a newspaper article about the agency’s growing need for volunteers as the number of children in foster care continued to rise due to the opioid crisis. She didn’t know that Glordan was a volunteer until they each ended up representing her CASA child in court on the same day.
Day recently signed up and completed her four weekly training sessions. She heard about the need for CASA volunteers while attending the St. Elizabeth Gala a few years ago. With her youngest in college, she was looking for more volunteer opportunities but wanted to do more research first. She reached out to Glordan as well as CASA volunteer Pamela (Lilly) Kraft ’77 and the Hon. J. Terrence Cody ’67, a Floyd County Circuit Court judge, who each answered her “many questions,” Day said.
Edwards said it’s not unusual for people to be reluctant to volunteer as a CASA advocate.
“A lot of volunteers are scared off by the term abused and neglected kids,” Edwards said. “They say, ‘Oh, I can’t do that. It’s too hard. It’s too sad,’ but the majority of these kids are in the system because their parents have made bad decisions, because of drugs or criminal activity, or just not being the parents they need them to be.”
Those who do volunteer become an advocate for the child in the court system. The Department of Child Services often focuses on the parent and reuniting the family, while CASA volunteers work to learn the children’s needs in order to speak up for them in court.
Volunteers typically interact with a child on at least a monthly basis and sometimes visit the child’s teachers and others to help determine the child’s needs. CASA works to match children with adults whose career or life situation may be of particular help to the child. Those with more free time can be assigned several cases, while those with limited time can represent only one child at a time.
“We can use anybody who has just a little bit of free time up to somebody who has a lot of free time,” Edwards said. “It just depends on the person, but we can use anybody who has any amount of time and we’ll make it work somehow.”
The agency is still in need of volunteers and has about 200 children without an advocate.
“Now is an ideal time to get people involved,” Edwards said.
For several years, CASA of Floyd and Washington Counties has been under the auspices of St. Elizabeth, but now it has grown to the point of being able to file for its own nonprofit status and will be hiring more staff. The agency will continue to rely on volunteers, however.
Triplett, Glordan, and Day all find the volunteer work rewarding.
Triplett said she likes “knowing that I am making a difference in a young person’s life during a very difficult and traumatic time.”
Glordan said she especially likes “being a consistent person in their life, listening, spending time with them, [and] encouraging them.”
The grandmother of the child in Glordan’s first case pointed out the importance of having children having multiple people in their lives willing to give their time and their care, and Glordan continues to recall that statement.
“It can be as simple as that,” Glordan said. “You can make an impact just by being present.”
Working with the adults in the children’s lives also is rewarding. Glordan enjoys working with the teachers, social workers, and counselors who are part of the team to help the children heal and grow. She also has found herself empathizing with their parents or guardians, who often “are struggling in ways I never have,” she said, noting “that has been a real growth experience for me. When you truly get to know people and know their life story, it’s easier to have more compassion and less judgement. CASA is a program where you can really put your faith in action.”
Day, who is working on her first case, is finding it so fulfilling so far. Although such experience isn’t a requirement, she feels more confidence as an advocate thanks to her nursing background and experience in child and adolescent psychology. She credits Providence with first instilling in her “a desire to give back to my community” – and appreciates the connections within the alumni community that helped provide the advice she needed when she was first considering volunteering with CASA.
Edwards is hoping more alumni will do as her classmates and Day have done and seek more information or offer to volunteer. The agency occasionally offers Meet & Greet sessions, but those interested can reach out directly to Edwards at 502-291-1837 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Even young alumni can help. Edwards’ daughter, Ashlyn ’15, is a volunteer advocate in Indianapolis. She started volunteering two years ago as a sophomore at Butler University studying philosophy and French. Ashlyn will be ending her volunteering in a few months after earning her degree this month and committing to move to France in September to teach under contract with the French government for a year. So Edwards knows that if a college student can find time, other alumni can too.
“I’m appealing to the kindness and compassion of my Providence family to join CASA in helping the children of our community,” Edwards said.
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