CASA of Caroline was started in 2003. Below is a brief history as told by our founder, The Honorable Judge J. Owen Wise.
Although the concept of CASA was firmly rooted in other states across the country and other counties in Maryland, its introduction to Caroline County was a challenge. It was akin to introducing a foreign language. Most people thought any child in the juvenile court system must have done something wrong to be there. One of the first hurdles was getting people at large to accept the fact that the children CASA deals with are victims and are part of the juvenile system due to no fault of their own. It remains a hurdle to this day.
In addition, we had to convince people (including public officials) that the needs of these children were not being met. Many people assumed if a case was opened on a child it meant the child’s needs were being met and the child was ok.
Aside from this general education goal we commenced recruiting board members and potential advocates. We found retired teachers to be a good resource because they recognized the problem and saw the unmet needs. They also recognized each of these children’s situations was different and a one-on-one approach was most appropriate. Personifying CASA children was (and is) one of our most difficult challenges because of confidentiality, but it seems to be the most effective tool to acquaint people with our mission.
We also had the usual start-up requirements for any non-profit organization and getting approval from governing agencies took some time and effort. The Caroline County public library proved to be a suitable meeting location.
We were fortunate in locating office space in the Law Building across from the court. We were also fortunate in hiring Joanne Staples as our first Executive Director; she had retired from a career in social services, most of which was local and involved both case work and administration. We had the usual start-up staffing problems of deciding what positions we needed and then finding the right people to fill them.
We then set about training our first class of advocates and building relationships with the court and social services. All the while we were seeking funding, both public and private, and holding fundraisers. Many county businesses were willing contributors once we were able to convey CASA’s mission to them.
From time to time I have been given credit for starting CASA of Caroline and I want to put that in a proper light. As many of you know, CASA was actually the brainchild of a judge in Washington State. CASA existed in many counties in Maryland before we started it in Caroline County. All we did was take an existing concept and brought it here to serve the children of our county.
The reason CASA exists in this county today is because of the selfless time and efforts of many of you who came after the originators. We all know that through CASA we have saved many children from further abuse and neglect.
It has been said that the reason that we don’t pay volunteers is not because they are worthless but because they are priceless. Keep up your unheralded good work!
Thank you to the following people and the countless others who have made significant contributions in bringing CASA to Caroline County:
Dot Blazejak Cay Cutright Duane Hilghman
Winnie Holden Frannie Ireland Barbara Manley
Anne Ogletree Jim Patrick Elizabeth Pinkett
Paddy Richards Walt Palmer JoAnn Staples
Carol Webster Brenda Will Sandy Wood
Judge Owen Wise
Caroline County Circuit Court 1982-1999