Since I am a seventh generation Yorktown person, I know most of the folks in this area. I taught and substituted in this region as well as worked in the Indiana State Education Department and Ontario Systems. My wife and I are local pastors of the United Methodist Church in Cammack.
One day, after I retired from teaching and working, Emily and I were having breakfast. We sat by a window, and I looked out and saw a large sign with Bob Ellis’s picture asking people to volunteer for CASA. I had no idea what that organization was, but that billboard stuck in my mind and pushed me forward.
Then, the very next morning, I saw Bob Ellis in a Yorktown restaurant. “Woody Sears, how are you?”
“Bob, you are the man I want to see. Let’s share a cup of coffee and you tell me about CASA.”
Bob explained that CASA was a national organization that recruited volunteers to speak up in the courtroom for the best interest of abused and neglected youth. The Indiana Court appoints special advocates, who are the CASA helpers. They intervene for these young people.
“You’d be a strong CASA volunteer, Woody. You love kids and have a lot of experience with them. Think about it. I’ll get you an application from my car,” said Bob.
That is how it all began, and here I am three years later sharing how it has affected me.
I have learned that life is not fair. These kids I represent need direction, love, and an education and someone to protect their best interest. As a CASA member, I am in a position to help them meet those goals. I have always had a heart for kids, so I did the paper work, attended the 180 hours of training and began my significant journey.
I remember one outstanding case that was many hours of hard detective work, but resulted in protecting two young boys who made me feel blessed and fulfilled. I knew my findings and presentations to the judge would make a difference in these boys’ lives. These two boys, age 10 and 11, lived with their mother and suffered neglect and abuse almost daily. I had to do something to keep these guys from more tangled threads in their young lives.
Although CASA only requires a volunteer to meet once a month with their court-appointed youth, I met with these two kids weekly. I’ve learned to act like a detective. I watch NCIS to teach me new angles of investigation. I wanted to be prepared to present convincingly my opinion to the judge.
I talked to these lads’ teachers, the administration, their doctor, mother, and biological father and granddad. It was crucial that I gathered all the facts before I went to court to speak up for these two guys. They needed to be removed from their mother’s home. This home life was stealing their childhood and destroying their dreams. From my investigations, I realized their biological father wanted them and could create a safer environment.
I went before the judge and acted like an attorney for my buddies. I addressed every contingency. The mother’s attorney never objected. The judge heard my plea for these two little boys’ safety and removed them from their home. On our next visit, they both threw their arms around my neck and said, “ Thank you, thank you, Mr. Sears.” Those words were pay enough for the 200 plus hours I had spent in investigating their past to create a better future. I will be their advocate until they are 18 and a friend much longer. CASA makes this possible for them and me.
There are 76 cases pending right now in Delaware County. A volunteer takes one young person at a time and makes a difference.
There is a family in Muncie that adopts abused children. They are saints. This family takes the refuse that others throw away and makes them into acceptable citizens. I know that when a child is placed there, he or she will be changed forever. These folks have hearts for kids like I do. We want to make an inroad in their lives and give them hope and safety. We have been blessed and want to pass that blessing forward.
Woody Sears’ was granted the award of Outstanding Casa of Indiana in 2011.
— As told to Sandi Baron, Midwest Writers Workshop
This story originally appeared in Facing Poverty, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by TEAMwork for Quality Living in Muncie, Indiana.