From January 1 through July 31, 82 volunteers have dedicated their time to being very special friends to 223 children in need through the local Court Appointed Special Advocate program.

Exactly how much time have those volunteers contributed? A total of 1,920 hours. And those hours include driving 16,004 miles to be the person with no other agenda than to be on the side of a child who has found him or herself placed in the court system through no fault of their own. In addition to being the one unwavering, solid “go to” person for those 223 children, the 82 CASA volunteers have also acted as the voice of the child in district court proceedings.

Who are these 82 volunteers? They are everyday people. They live right here in south central Oklahoma communities. Some have jobs. Some are retired. They are people many know as family members, friends and neighbors. The one thing that sets them apart is their desire to make a difference in the life of a child who desperately needs someone to be on their side, without any ulterior motives.

These 82 volunteers were recently honored for the unique gift of love they offer children in need at the annual CASA Volunteer Dinner. This year the theme was “Putting the Puzzle Pieces Together.” The theme aptly describes the work each volunteer performs in the quest to make a difference for the child or children they serve.

During the event, six volunteers were recognized for their combined 80 years of service:

- Kerry Ellis, a 20 year volunteer who has been the CASA in 20 cases involving 40 children.

- Jan Hasty, who has been a CASA for 15 years and served in 14 cases involving 24 children

- Jana Weichbrodt, who has also dedicated 15 years to the program and been the CASA in six cases involving seven children

- Susie Tidwell, a 10 year CASA having 11 cases involving 36 children.

- Cole Tidwell, a 10 year volunteer with eight cases involving 21 children

- Lottie Jones, a 10 year CASA serving in three cases involving six children

Associate District Judge Lee Card was also honored by the local group for his 28 years on the bench, during which time he has “helped put a lot of families back together by having a successful drug court and by doing some of the deprived children’s cases during his tenure,” said CASA spokesperson Marie O’Dell.

“I was so humbled and honored to be recognized by CASA at its banquet. I don’t know what we would do without CASA, whose volunteers bring energy and originality to the cause of deprived children. The contributions they make toward providing children with stable and loving families are invaluable. Again, I thank CASA for their kindness and support,” Card said while talking about the award Wednesday.

In an unanticipated turn of events Lynn Riley, CASA executive director was honored by the Carter County District Court judges. District Judge Dennis Morris presented Riley with a commendation recognizing her decade of service as the program’s executive director. In addition, Morris commended Riley’s dedication to children as a 10-year CASA volunteer with 15 cases involving 29 children.

Lynn became the CASA director in June of 2004. Since that time she has recruited and trained 237 CASA volunteers and as director has overseen 404 cases involving 854 children. During those 10 years she is credited with handling 15 cases serving 29 children, 14 of whom were teenagers. However, Lynn deserves credit for all 400 cases, as she takes a personal interest and has knowledge of each and every case that a CASA serves,” Morris said Wednesday as he talked about the commendation.

“Lynn is hard working, professional, passionate and cares sincerely for each and every child that CASA is involved with. It is her leadership and dedication that sets an example for all of the CASA volunteers that serves these children that are in need.

“Speaking not just for myself, but for all of the judges of the Twentieth Judicial District, CASA and the volunteers under Lynn’s leadership and guidance provide the courts with invaluable information. This information assists us in our decisions that we otherwise would not have. And we look forward to Lynn’s service for the children in the future.”

Riley said she was stunned by the award and extremely appreciative.

“I was totally, utterly and completely surprised they would do that. I wasn’t expecting to be recognized for my 10 years or as a volunteer and I was very, very touched,” Riley said.