The first annual Spirit of Rose: Aspire & Inspire Awards were presented to deserving volunteers of the Porter County CASA program at the Moose Lodge on Sunday night in honor of the late Rose Butler.
“Rose truly aspired to passionately advocate for the children that she represented,” CASA Director Sarah Fink said as she introduced the award. “Her work was noble and inspiring.”
CASA, or Court Appointed Special Advocates, is a volunteer program to help children who have experienced abuse or neglect when their families are in the court system. A CASA volunteer gives the child a voice in court.
“We meet with the children and get to know them,” said Emily Hoak, CASA Supervisor. “All in the effort to figure out the child’s needs so we can best advocate for them in court.”
The event welcomed Porter County CASA volunteers who were invited to bring any friend that might be interested in volunteering.
“We always need more volunteers,” Fink said. CASA served 400 children last year, and when there are not enough volunteers, children must be placed on a waiting list and monitored by staff.
Rose Butler, who inspired the awards, passed away a year ago. She had the very important role of monitoring the waiting list, soher passing left a big gap.
She was excellent at her job, navigating relationships with foster and biological parents, DCS case managers, and the children themselves. According to her fellow volunteers, friends and family in attendance, Butler was, by all accounts, a true blessing. New volunteers are stepping forward to fill the need, which is constant, due to a sharp increase in children needing advocacy in the past two years in particular. But more are always welcome.
Before the awards were handed out, Fink played a video of CASA staff and volunteers remembering all that Butler brought to their lives. From the joie de vivre of a woman who danced everywhere she went—always in high heels—to the diplomatic firebrand she was in aid of children she represented, Butler clearly impacted many lives.
“People loved to be mentored by her,” Fink said.
The awards ceremony was, with none of the winners opting to give any kind of acceptance speech, which could be explained by a sentiment Fink shared in the presentation:
“We don’t feel like heroes or saints, but we are offering something positive in a messy process.”
First honored was John McQuillan, who “exhibited a true dedication to uncovering of facts, going above and beyond in his thorough research, showing real humility and a desire to learn. In his very first case, he was atypically asked to testify as a CASA, and he did a beautiful job.”
Lisa Stressler, the second honoree, made all the beautiful high heel cupcakes for the event, and was also described as “undaunted, energetic, willing, and industrious. She finds answers and makes connections. She gets results in her cases.”
The Spirit of Rose Award, a prism etched with a high heel in honor of Butler, was presented to Susan Havens, who seemed to have that perfect mix that Butler herself had brought to the table.
Havens was a nurse for 50 years, earning her Masters Degree at the age of 50 from the University of Notre Dame, and then moving to work in San Diego. In 2013 she trained to become a CASA volunteer in California, and when she retired, she moved back to the Region to be closer to her family.
“I came back, I walked into the CASA office, said I’d done CASA before and they grabbed me,” Havens said. When asked why she chooses to volunteer now that she’s retired, the nurse who’d spent her entire career helping children said, “It’s time to give back.”
“I represent young kids who wouldn’t have a voice without CASA,” said Brennan Granger, who’s been a CASA volunteer for a little over a year. “I’ve seen positive changes in their lives.”
Havens said, “It’s something that is not a huge time commitment, it’s just a commitment of the spirit. You need to be a person that shows up for these kids.”
“They know. There’s a person there who’s just there for them.”
If you’re looking for a way to give back, CASA is a great place to start—if you’re the type whose compassion can withstand a messy system, and you want to do your level best for children who need at least that much. Visit https://www.fysb.org/casa-program for more information.
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