The words “I Am for the Child,” are meaningful to volunteer CASA advocates nationwide. Since 1977, that has equated to providing the voices for more than 1 million abused or neglected children walking through the court system, and leading them to safe, permanent homes.
These are the trained Court Appointed Special Advocates.
After the program was started out of Seattle courts, a Junior League of the Pikes Peak Region’s child abuse study led to the planning and development of a local program in 1987, funded for two years by the league and El Pomar Foundation.
The nonprofit CASA of the Pikes Peak Region was officially born in 1989, and its first coordinator and executive director, Trudy Strewler Hodges, was honored at a 30th anniversary reception Feb. 7. She had developed CASA and its programs for 26 years before stepping down in 2015. She served with national CASA and had helped write five successful pieces of Colorado legislation, including one to always place siblings together.
Hodges said she and one assistant started in a one-room office with a shared desk and computer. The beginning was helping 20 abused or neglected children through court proceedings.
Now CASA has four major programs and five others housed in one building, and more than 400 trained advocates have served 14,000 children in El Paso and Teller counties.
Still, said Executive Director Angela Rose, who started at CASA under Hodges, several hundred children are waiting, and the goal is to have a CASA for every child by 2020. An estimated 79 percent of children are being served this year.
Board chairman Dave Johnson, an attorney, GAL and judge, admits that when he was “here for the birth of CASA,” he had serious doubts about “what lay people could bring to the table. I was so wrong. I got the most up-to-date reports from the CASA volunteers. And Trudy made it happen.”
Thanking volunteers, board members, her husband and supporters who helped make it happen for 30 years, Hodges dedicated her work to her own daughter, Rebecca, a childhood survivor and witness to family abuse who “became an overcomer, not just a survivor.” Today, Rebecca Levenson is nationally known for work with Futures Without Violence out of San Francisco.
A community 30th anniversary celebration is in planning stages.
Photo gallery: gazette.com/life/around-town