CASA honors pair of volunteers for service

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) – CASA of Lexington’s two Volunteers of the Month for January

Ruth Walker

both resolved to help abused children in their communities after hearing about the need for Court-Appointed Special Advocates.

Ruth Walker heard about CASA of Lexington after hearing about the organization at her church.

“It sounded like a good fit because I could volunteer and still maintain other commitments and travel with my husband,” she said.

A year and a half after completing her training, Walker has been named a Volunteer of the Month because of her dedication to helping a child in a difficult situation.

“Ruth is doing extraordinary work on her first CASA case,” said Dennis Stutsman, Walker’s Volunteer Manager. “Ruth has steadfastly advocated for her child, learning about developmental stages for a youth who identifies as transgender, advocating for cultural connection and a full exploration of potential extended family caregivers, and leaving no stone unturned in the quest for an appropriate placement.”

Walker said she likes that by serving as a CASA volunteer she can “change the trajectory of a child’s future,” and that she has support from “extraordinary people” throughout the system to help her do it.

“As a CASA volunteer, I have had the opportunity to positively influence the life of a child,” she said. “Though it is eye-opening to bear witness to the enormous needs of neglected and/or abused children and suffering families, it is rewarding to be a resource for them.”

Debra Gabbard is also a Volunteer of the Month for January; she said she got involved with CASA after a friend asked that people do good deeds in memory of a child who passed away.

“The same day, I received a note about a new class to train advocates for CASA,” she said. “I made the call the same day. It seemed to be destiny.”

Stutsman, who is also Gabbard’s Volunteer Manager, said Gabbard is an all-star volunteer who is currently working three cases; most volunteers work one case at a time.

“Debra is patient, persistent, thorough and always sensitive to the family relationships that complicate her kids’ lives,” Stutsman said. “She is a vocal advocate for what is first and foremost the best outcome possible for her kids.”

“I have done a lot of volunteer work, but nothing that I have ever done has compared to the rewards that I receive from working with my CASA kids,” Gabbard said. “I currently have three cases, with children in many different foster homes ranging in age from toddlers to teenagers. Each case is different, but similar in the fact that we are focusing on what is best for the child to grow up in a safe and permanent home.”

Gabbard has also told her friends and coworkers about CASA of Lexington and talked about why she volunteers, which has led five other people to become CASA volunteers, as well.

“I credit that to not as much what I’ve done or said, but just being blessed with really amazing friends and coworkers who want to make a difference in a child’s life,” she said. “For most of the people I speak with, they are not concerned with the time it will take, but how difficult it will be to have a close relationship with a child who has been abused or neglected to the degree that we see.”

Gabbard has been a CASA volunteer more than two and a half years. During that time, she has advocated for eight children. This is her second time being named a Volunteer of the Month.

CASA volunteers are trained by CASA of Lexington staff and then appointed to cases of child abuse and neglect by a family court judge. They become friends to the children on their cases, and they provide insights and verify information, which helps inform the judge’s decisions.

CASA volunteers are often assigned to some of the most difficult cases of abuse and neglect. But their work helps get services to those children — and helps them return to permanent, safe and loving homes.

“Honestly, it is hard, but this is going on every single day,” Gabbard said. “There’s a child waiting for someone to speak up for them. I have never regretted for a single moment my decision to help these children.”

CASA of Lexington’s trained and supervised volunteers advocate through the family court systems in Fayette, Bourbon, Woodford and Scott counties to ensure all victims of child abuse and neglect are safe and thrive in a permanent home.

Changes such as where the child lives or goes to school, changes in social workers, teachers and friends, as well as the uncertainty of what life holds, can be very overwhelming for these children.

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