Over the past 25 years, a chorus of passionate voices has been speaking on behalf of children who may otherwise have gone unheard. Hundreds of Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) volunteers have represented the best interests of abused and neglected children in the Pikes Peak region, giving them a chance at a brighter future and helping to disrupt the cycle of abuse, now and for future generations.
Locally, CASA began in the late 80s when studies conducted by the Junior League of Colorado Springs indicated child abuse victims in El Paso and Teller counties did not have adequate representation or advocacy. The national Court Appointed Special Advocates model was selected as the best approach to address this growing need and the local chapter was formed. A board of directors was selected in 1989 and a volunteer coordinator was hired to train the first class of 21 volunteers. Since then, CASA of the Pikes Peak Region has been recruiting, training, and supporting volunteers to advocate for children in the 4th Judicial District (El Paso and Teller counties). The goal is to ensure safety and permanency for children whose lives are in turmoil. After 25 years of effective and compassionate advocacy, the lives of over 10,000 children in the Pikes Peak Region have been changed for the better.
Former 4th Judicial District Chief Judge Donald Campbell helped lay the groundwork for CASA to become a model program in the region. “CASA was, and remains, a valuable adjunct to the court,” he said. “The voice of the child in court was the thing I found missing until CASA began to function.”
CASA’s success is due to many community partners including volunteers, board members, donors, corporate sponsors, and foundations. “For the past 25 years, it has been my great privilege to witness this community as it has embraced children in need,” said CASA Executive Director Trudy Strewler Hodges. “I never imagined we could reach 10,000 children. In the early days, the board and I talked about how great it would be if we could just serve 100 children” said Hodges.
Strewler was hired as CASA’s volunteer coordinator, the first and only employee. She was quickly promoted to executive director and today manages a dynamic organization of 33 staff members, 350-plus volunteers and an operating budget of $2 million.
CASA of the Pikes Peak Region is one of 930 National CASA member programs across the United States, with more than 70,000 men and women serving as CASA volunteers. Our local CASA is one of the largest and most well-respected programs in the country, often looked to for training and best practices within the national network.
CASA of the Pikes Peak Region is unique among other CASA organizations in that it provides multiple programs to safe-guard and benefit children: in addition to the core advocacy program for children in the Dependency & Neglect (child abuse) court, CASA also administers the Supervised Exchange and Parenting Time program, the Children and Families in Transition seminar for all divorcing parents, the Milton Foster Children’s Fund, and The Hanger store for foster teens.
Last year, CASA served 500 abused and neglected children in the Dependency and Neglect (child abuse) program; this represents only half of the nearly 1,000 child victims are waiting for a CASA who will fight for their rights. CASA has long had the dream to close this gap and serve every child in need and is now poised to realize this vision by shifting to a new, proven program model that utilizes an additional level of volunteer leadership.
The Peer Coordinator model will help CASA serve more children without the expense of hiring numerous paid staff. The launch of the new model will provide experienced long-term volunteers known as Peer Coordinators (PCs) to support the newly trained advocates, adding another level of volunteer leadership to the organization. PCs take on the role of coach and mentor to the new volunteer advocates, while staff members support the Peer Coordinators.
This capacity-building volunteer leadership model will double our volunteer base, enabling us to serve every child, every day, every year by the year 2020, a 125% growth in children served.
“I don’t know when I have been more excited about an initiative,” said executive director, Trudy Strewler Hodges. “I know we can get there, and the realization that we can truly serve every child is fueling our entire organization.
About the National CASA Association
In 1976, concerned over making decisions about abused and neglected children’s lives without sufficient information, a Seattle judge conceived the idea of using trained community volunteers to speak for the best interests of these children in court, helping to ensure that they will live in a safe and loving environment. So successful was this Seattle program, that soon judges across the country began utilizing citizen advocates. In 1990, the U.S. Congress encouraged the expansion of CASA with passage of the Victims of Child Abuse Act.
CASA of the Pikes Peak Region: 25 YEAR HIGHLIGHTS:
1987: Junior League of Colorado Springs conducts studies and determines victims of child abuse and neglect do not have adequate representation or advocacy.
1989: Junior League forms local CASA chapter, “CASA of the Pikes Peak Region.” El Pomar Foundation and Junior League provide first two years of start up funding.
- Budget: $22,425
- Staff: 1 (part time)
- Volunteers: 21
- Children served: 42
1993: Children and Families in Transition seminar begins. The Fourth Judicial District partnered with CASA and community professionals to develop the Parenting Through Divorce seminar (now known as Children and Families in Transition or CFIT).The program seeks to educate parents on the negative effects of parental conflict on children. Attendance is now mandatory for all individuals going through divorce or family litigation if they have children under the age of 18.
1997: CASA expands to Teller County and opens anoffice in Cripple Creek.
1998: Supervised Exchange and Parenting Time (SEPT) Program begins after judge asks CASA to provide a low-cost supervised parenting setting. SEPT volunteers oversee this service that protects children from witnessing parental disputes during the exchange of children from one parent to another. Volunteers also supervise court ordered parenting time (supervised visits), allowing children to spend time with their parents in a safe environment.
- Volunteer Dick Milton works with CASA to draft state legislation preventing siblings from being separated when placed in foster care or adoptive homes whenever possible. Colorado HB 00-1108 passes.
- National CASA Association awards Dick Milton with National CASA Volunteer Advocate of the Year out of a pool of 53,000 volunteers nationwide.
- El Paso County Department of Human Services asks CASA to take over and administer the Foster Children’s Fund. This fund provides foster children with opportunities not funded through existing agencies or programs, allowing them to be nurtured, educated and enriched, and grow into healthy, contributing adults. In 2008, the fund was renamed “Milton Foster Children’s Fund” in honor of CASA volunteer Dick Milton after his passing.
2002: CASA moves out of a small office in the El Paso County courthouse into the Maytag Aircraft building at 701 S. Cascade. In 2002, the building was purchased with funds raised through a capital campaign.
- Life Long Links begins: A program to locate, connect, and engage family and other important people to children and youth who do not live at home, in order to develop supportive relationships, placement options, and life-long connections.
- Peer Coordinator volunteer leadership model launched. First team of 13 PCs trained.
- The Hanger Store for foster teens opens. The Hanger was created to fulfill the need for clothing and personal items (free of charge) for local teens that are victims of abuse, neglect and are living in the foster care system. Teens have the opportunity to help operate the store, providing them with valuable work experience.
2014: CASA of the Pikes Peak Region turns 25:
- 2014 Budget: $2,075,000
- Staff: 33
- Volunteers: 350
- Children served in 2013 = 1080
- Children served in all programs in past 25 years = 10,000
More information about the History of CASA of the Pikes Peak Region:
- 25 Faces of CASA
- August 24, 2014: Colorado Springs Gazette: Around Town: A vision to serve every child in need
- August 17, 2014: Colorado Springs Gazette: CASA has helped thousands of El Paso County children over its first 25 years