By CHRIS AGEE
Representatives of Court Appointed Special Advocates of Palo Pinto County hosted the first Judge Jerry Ray Advocates Award Lunwcheon Wednesday afternoon.
Local residents and community leaders joined CASA volunteers at Holiday Hills Country Club for the event.
Featured speaker Randy Keck, owner and publisher of the Aledo Community News, began the event with his remarks about the importance of CASA volunteers.
“Every child deserves to grow up in a healthy, nurturing environment,” he said, “but not every child gets to.”
Explaining criminal trials include advocates for the prosecution and defense, Keck said it makes sense to provide children affected in these cases with the same.
He briefly explored CASA’s history, which began when a judge in Washington state recognized a lack of social workers representing abused and neglected children.
Within the organization’s first 30 years, Keck said CASA has served the needs of more than 2 million young people.
For many of the children in such situations, he said advocates are “the one constant in their lives.”
Keck noted that children 4 years old and younger are the most likely to be abused, adding abused children are 59 percent more likely to commit crimes as an adult.
Two-thirds of individuals in drug treatment facilities say they were abused, Keck explained, and one-third of child abuse victims grow up to commit similar abuse.
He ended his remarks with several examples of CASA success stories, including a three-year-old girl who was molested by her mother’s boyfriend and physically abused by her grandmother and her boyfriend.
After CASA volunteers vetted a grandfather and recommended the victim be placed with him, she was able to go on to lead a healthy life. Without CASA, he said, the situation could have dragged on for years through the legal system.
CASA volunteer Carolyn Pierel introduced Judge Jerry Ray by touting his commitment and service to Palo Pinto County over the past 50 years.
After being elected district attorney in 1992, she said “it wasn’t good to be a criminal in Palo Pinto County.”
Ray, who did not seek re-election as district judge for a term ending this year, “will be missed after his retirement,” Pierel said.
“I am extremely honored to have any award for those who care about children named after me,” Ray said, clarifying he was not the individual being honored but the CASA volunteers in attendance.
While many awards are named for people posthumously, Ray said, “All I had to do was quit.”
Seeing cases of abuse and neglect on a regular basis, he said he understands the importance of child advocates.
“I look at you ... as doing the Lord’s work,” he said. “I do get emotional and unapologetically.”
As a judge, Ray said he can only deal with a small part of the overarching causes of abuse, thanking the advocates for their hard work behind the scenes.
“Courtroom activity is just the tip of the iceberg,” he said.
The luncheon ended with the presentation of a plaque to Barbara Stagner, recognized as advocate of the quarter.
Stagner said she joined CASA “to make a difference in a child’s life and it ended up making a difference in mine.”
By CHRIS AGEE
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