The 2017 Child Advocate of the Year awards were distributed April 28th at Blue Chip Casino to volunteers in the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) and Court Appointed Youth Advocate (CAYA) programs.
During the event, Magistrate Jonathan Forker, who has both CASA and CAYA vounteers in his courtroom, told the audience of more than 150, "Volunteers are valuable to the children and youth they represent, but also to the magistrate who must make difficult decisions about their lives. CASA and CAYA volunteers provide the magistrate with photos and recommendations specific to the child's needs."
This year's La Porte County CASA winner, Norma Kasinger, has been a volunteer since 2015 and has already advocated for children in four cases. Michelle Stowers, a caseworker for the Department of Child Services described Norma's dedication to the children and her commitment in advocating for their best interest. "Norma provides information that others may never find and visits the children weekly," Stowers said. "She keeps me on my toes."
The LaPorte County CAYA winner, Michael Walker Sr., has worked with at-risk youth as a volunteer for the CAYA Program as well as coaching football. Sheriff John Boyd described Mike as a good father; husband, friend and officer and a man who cares about his community and others. Aree, one of Mike's youth could not be present but sent a 2-page letter describing his advocate.
The Pulaski County CASA winner, Kathy Abbott, has been a volunteer since 2016. Kathy has been actively advocating for two children since 2016, who have been dealing with physical and mental abuse. Kathy is a true champion for children.
"I can still hear your voice in my head when I think to do wrong," he said in the letter. "It's the little things like that that help me stay out of trouble. I have a great story to tell one day and it's impossible to tell it without you being in it."
Karen Biernacki, CEO of Family Advocates told the volunteers that the quote by Dr. Seuss, "To the world you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world," described the important work they do each day. "In today's world of social media and 24 hour news, we constantly hear about child abuse and neglect, domestic violence, bullying and hate crimes. We start to believe that the world we live in is a scary place and that no one over 26 year, cares about each other. Individuals at Family Advocates know that isn't true. Our volunteers do not put their heads in the sand, but rather stepped up to make a difference in a child's life. These people have no expectations and no demands - they have made a conscious choice to make a difference in this world- one child at a time."