Worth Every Effort

May 3, 2024

Worth Every Effort

By Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer

Sometimes all it takes is a chocolate chip cookie. That, and a good listening ear.

Those are things Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Grayson County volunteer Advocate Giles discovered with a teenager he has been advocating for since she was 11. She’s undergone eight placement changes, but Giles has been the one constant in her life. That, and the chocolate chip cookies he brings for their visits.

Giles is one of 30 CASA volunteer Advocates serving with CASA of Grayson County. 30 hours of training before they ever take a case, these amazing hearts are dedicated to seeing the best outcome for the child. CASA of Grayson County has 16 trained helping hearts. These special volunteers help support our advocates throughout their cases. In most instances, advocate spouses take on the role of a helping heart, giving couples the opportunity to make a difference together.

Sometimes the outcome is in seeing them placed in a foster home, or in a permanent home through adoption. Sometimes it’s reunification with their families.

That’s something CASA volunteer Advocate Jill has seen with three families in the last year and a half. She went above and beyond to research and advocate for services that benefited the children and parents and even helped a father get bunk beds and bedding for his children so they could return home.

Returning home isn’t always an option, but CASA of Grayson County helps fill in the gap and keep sibling groups together when possible. CASA volunteers can be assigned up to 5 cases, but most advocates focus on one case at a time.

Some advocates serve sibling groups, as in cases CASA volunteer Advocate Lea Ann has handled. She is a trusted confidant who helped two young brothers stay close to each other. She made sure the brothers visited regularly until they could be placed in the same foster home. She then worked hard to find the two brothers a permanent home together.

James Hamilton, executive director of CASA of Grayson County, has the privilege of working with all the volunteer advocates. He has seen all aspects of the child welfare system and has a passion for breaking the cycles of abuse in communities.

“Our CASA volunteers are people who have a heart and a drive to make a difference in a child’s life,” James says. “That’s huge for our community because that cycle of abuse can go on for generations. Having the volunteers gives an opportunity for parents to address the hurdles they are facing and become better parents for the future.”

After working in the juvenile justice system for 15 years, James took time to step away. Then the opportunity came up for him to become the advocate supervisor at CASA of Grayson County and he knew he was ready to start working with kids again. He became the executive director two years later.

“My drive is being able to make a difference, especially when you see families come together and start working as a family,” James says. “No family has it easy, so when they experience even small victories, it’s great to see.”

Texoma Health Foundation funding goes toward CASA of Grayson County’s continuing education program and to direct services for the children. CASA volunteers follow their child’s case wherever it takes them, which sometimes involves long drives and overnight stays.

Every effort is worth it.

“When you start seeing that genuine smile of joy on kids’ faces and in their eyes, you know they feel safe,” James says. “There’s a lot of trauma these kids have to endure. Being able to see them be resilient and overcome and be in a better place, it’s a sight to see. They’re happy and they have hope again. It fills your heart.”