Published 8/5/2015 – Leader Publications by Ted Yoakum

Cass County CASA volunteers sworn inThe trials of growing up is never an easy process for kids, be it dealing with constant schoolwork, adjusting to the changes that come with adolescence or learning the sometimes painful lessons that will prepare them for adulthood.

For children growing up in the foster care system, the transition from child to adult is never easy, especially without the support of a loving family to fall back on in times of need.

It’s during the darkest hours when the men and women serving as Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) step in, to provide the support and voice for the children who need it the most.

On Wednesday, six men and women from around the area officially joined the ranks of the advocacy program Wednesday afternoon, sworn in by Cass County Family Judge Susan Dobrich inside her courtroom at the county courts building in Cassopolis. Sworn in Wednesday were:

  • Kelly Terrill, of Niles, a recently retired veteran in the human resources field.
  • Kathleen Brousseau, of Edwardsburg, a recently retired business owner.
  • Pam Boepple, of Edwardsburg, a program director with the Cass District Library.
  • Jennifer Brueck, of Bridgeman, a human resources consultant and former PTO president.
  • Doug Pearson, of Dowagiac, a retired Air Force colonel and a student advocate at Dowagiac Union High School.
  • Dale Banks, of Niles, a retired educator.

“All of six of them, through volunteer work or through their jobs, have worked with kids, extensively,” said James Ward, the executive director of Cass County CASA.

The new volunteers join the organization after completing 35 hours worth of training over the last several weeks, Ward said. The inductees were given instruction on various aspects on how to perform and excel in their new responsibilities as advocates, which included lessons on subjects ranging from how to work with children from a variety of different backgrounds to various courtroom procedures.

“It was an eye-opening experience,” Terrill said. “These kids go through things I’ve never thought of before.” For Terrill, graduation marks a new venture in her life. Retiring from her job four years ago, the Niles woman saw CASA as a way to keep active. Despite working with adults in her professional life, she decided to become an advocate for youth based on her love for her children and grandchildren, she said.

For Pearson, CASA allows him to apply his years of experience working with high school kids, first as an ROTC director in Georgia and now as a student advocate in Dowagiac today. “It really brings me joy to help kids and to make a difference in their lives,” he said.

With their graduation from the program, the new CASAs will likely be working with a particular child within the next several weeks. With the average case lasting 24 months, the advocates will become a important part of their child’s life, working extensively with them as they attempt to find them a permanent and safe home.

“I’m nervous and excited at the same time [to get started],” Terril said.

“The training we got will be solidified once we start getting some real-world experience,” Pearson said.