They were all volunteers, men as well as women, who give their time to be a special friend to an abused, neglected or deprived child, and they were honored for a job well done Tuesday evening during the Court Appointed Special Advocate Appreciation Dinner at Ardmore Convention Center.

Dining tables were decorated with stones, each inscribed with an affirmation like love, trust, belief, resiliency, peace and hope. Centerpieces included rubberized "bendable" figures of children. The decor took on specific meaning as CASA Executive Director Lynn Riley told the volunteers the items represented just some of the life-altering gifts they give to the children to which they are assigned. Riley praised the group for an extraordinary job which, so far in 2013, includes these staggering statistics:

- Currently 86 people are active CASA volunteers in Carter, Johnston, Love, Marshall and Murray counties

- Volunteers are serving 191 children

- Volunteers have filed independent reports to judges and acted as the "voice of the child" in 92 court cases

- Volunteers have devoted 1,550 accumulative hours to being special friends to children

- Volunteers have driven an cumulative 10, 579 miles

Special recognition went to Darlene Callahan for her 20 years of tenacious volunteer service to CASA. Valerie Bynum was honored for devoting 15 years to the agency, and Lisa Bell was recognized as a 10-year volunteer. The Ardmoreite was also honored for providing coverage concerning the ongoing need for volunteers, and information regarding the mission and goals of CASA.

Highlighting the evening was keynote speaker Serena Hanson.

Hanson, a foster child at the age of 12 after revealing years of sexual, physical and emotional abuse by her father, and a CASA child, has earned both bachelor's and master's degrees. The mother of four now works for the Oklahoma CASA Association.

CASA volunteers are the "constant" in the life of a child who has been removed from their home by the court as the result of abuse, neglect or depravation. While agencies strive to assist children in these circumstances, the child often feels lost without anyone they can depend on because foster homes, case workers and other factors may change. CASA volunteers conduct their own independent studies, reporting directly to the judge presiding over the case. They spend time being a "friend" to the child, and they also speak for the child in court.

CASA volunteers are not required to have any special qualifications other than a desire to help a child.

Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer should contact the CASA office at (580) 226-0009.