Learn firsthand what it’s like to be a CASA volunteer by reading about the journeys of those who have served as our frontline champions and direct advocates for youths.
Joan Clark is a Drexel Hill resident who owns and operates J.J. Clark, Inc., which provides professional forklift and lift truck sales, leasing, service and training. Joan came to CASA with a special interest in working with teenagers. In the child welfare system, these young people have often experienced trauma deeper than the documented abuse or neglect in their lives. Many have spent significant years in the system and have faced multiple losses, including family, friends and the professionals involved in overseeing their care.
Cherrelle is one such case. In the child welfare system since 2012, she had an extensive history of mental health hospitalizations and runaway behavior. She had attempted suicide several times and was possibly sexually abused. Cherrelle’s stability was nonexistent. She’d been placed in hospitals, detention centers, residential facilities and group homes. While in residential care, Cherrelle assaulted a teacher, which led to her involvement in the Juvenile Delinquency system.
Joan went right to work on Cherrelle’s behalf and embraced “being” there as an advocate, presence and pillar of encouragement and support.She has kept Cherrelle informed and has advised her to be an active participant in meetings and hearings. In addition, Joan became Cherrelle’s appointed Educational Decision Maker, ensuring that Cherrelle received the same educational opportunities as any other child in the educational system.
Chris Reibl has served as a CASA champion since 2011. She is a Chester County resident and owner of Infusion Living LLC, a consumer products business focused on style-forward kitchen, dinnerware and gardening products.
Chris lends an uncommon skill set to CASA youths and has made a direct difference in the lives of the children she’s served. Her entrepreneurial sensibility has equipped her to proactively seek out new services and support outlets for the young people whose cases she’s been assigned. She also has been a bridge-builder, cultivating deeper communication among respective service providers involved in her cases, even as she’s advocated for quality education for her young people. The children and youths with whom she’s been involved know her as a supportive presence.
This was particularly apparent when Chris championed a sibling group that involved a 4-, 5- and 9-year old who were assigned to her following an allegation of sexual abuse of the nine-year old by an older brother. Over 44 months, Chris visited the boys monthly. She also attended 49 family visits — both to observe and to help ease the boys’ anxiety about visitation — between the children and their mother, who could be volatile. She continuously advocated for changes in the visitation schedule – frequency, location, duration – to minimize the impact on the 9-year-old’s schooling. Along the way, she ensured each one received the therapeutic resources they needed for their trauma and served as their Education Decision Maker. The oldest child in this group was successfully placed in an adoptive home. The middle child is in a foster home that is showing promise as an adoptive environment. The youngest child is in a residential treatment facility due to struggles with aggression at home and in school.
“To volunteer [with CASA] is to receive a gift of the opportunity to do something important,” says Chris. “The more I do, the more I see what needs to be done. The more I become involved, the more I see how much there is to learn.”
Persistence and dedication have defined Maureen Rodenheiser’s work as a CASA volunteer. Maureen lives in Chester County. Now retired, she previously owned her own information technology consulting firm.
Maureen was assigned her first case in 2012. Three years later, her work to champion the five children involved in that case is moving toward a permanent future for each of them as they are readying for adoption. Along the way, Maureen has visited these children – who have been split into two separate home placements – more than 90 times. This level of interaction has made her an expert advocate and a trusted third party of the court.
"CASA has been a wonderful opportunity for me. It is gratifying to get to know these deserving children and watch them blossom and eventually find their forever homes," says Maureen.
Francy Strathmann’s work as a CASA volunteer champion has been distinguished by her thoroughness and fierce advocacy on behalf of the young people to whom she is assigned. Francy resides in Newtown Square and is the assistant head of school and director of admissions at Media-Providence Friends School.
Recently, Francy championed two young boys, one of whom could not speak, walk or communicate and was frequently hospitalized. With uncommon thoroughness, Francy connected with all of the stakeholders in the young boys’ lives and became a clearinghouse of information on the big-picture status of their condition. Along the way, she uncovered significant neglect of both boys, leading to a termination of parental rights and paving the way for adoption by their respective foster families.
Before this case closed, Francy was assigned to work with Rachel, an 11-year-old girl who was horribly abused and was moved five times while in the the foster care system. This has led to significant behavioral and mental health issues. She trusted no one. Francy’s gentleness and composure won over the young person and she was ultimately championed to permanency through an adoption.
Thomas Campbell grew up in Philadelphia, raised by his father, grandmother and sister. Thomas says it was his sister who pushed him to join the Marines after high school graduation. His long, distinguished career in the military included deployments in Afghanistan, Lebanon and New Orleans, where he was integral to the Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts.
During his military service, Thomas received many commendations and awards, including the National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal and the Humanitarian Service Medal. He also suffered injuries in these deployments that caused his retirement from the military and the Department of Corrections. But Thomas still had more to give. That’s when he found CASA. Sworn in in August 2012, Thomas accepted his first case soon after. Additionally, he enrolled in the social work program at West Chester University, feeling that he owed his CASA youth the best advocacy possible.
Thomas has exhibited incredible diligence. In a recent case, he served as both a child’s volunteer champion and Educational Decision Maker. He discovered that the child’s school and school district had perpetrated neglect and not adequately addressed the learning disabilities of the young person. He found an attorney, fought and won a decision on the child’s behalf, including a move out of the district to a new school and a $10,000 educational stipend. This child is now progressing in a more stable environment.