Wednesday, Sep 2, 2020
Gerry Hill first came to understand the value of Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA volunteers, during his last six years working for Child Protective Services.
CASA of Lewis & Clark and Broadwater Counties is a nonprofit providing volunteer guardians working on behalf of neglected children as they seek safe permanent homes. Hill became the executive director of the organization about a month ago, and hopes to double the number of volunteers in his first year.
“I worked with so many kids as a CPS worker and CASA volunteers really can become very close with the child and foster providers,” Hill said. “It really does change a child’s story and I so appreciated the CASA volunteers.”
Hill grew up in Oregon, attending college at Willamette University and then earning a master’s in divinity in Berkeley, California. He served for three decades as a Methodist pastor, overseeing churches in Oregon and one in Idaho.
Hill’s wife, Robin Morrison, is a Helena native, and he decided to retire and move to the capital city seven years ago. He spent about a year working in children’s mental health before moving to CPS.
“Throughout my life and in my ministry, I always had a special place in my heart for children,” he said. “I wasn’t sure how I’d like the work at CPS, but I found that having someone as a CPS worker who genuinely cares for children and parents and foster families – that really made a difference.”
Hill recalled working with parents in treatment court and being able to see their health transformation.
When the position of executive director at CASA came up, Hill saw the opportunity as a great fit. He already knew CPS workers, county attorneys, public defenders, those working in schools and therapists. It was a chance to take a leadership role and advocate for children.
“CASA volunteers are the eyes and ears of the court and the voice of the child,” he said. “It’s that singular view that's really unique. CPS is responsible for children, parents’ rights, foster families, but CASA’s responsibility is the child’s best interest.”
CASA’s 48 volunteers are currently serving about 90 kids, but that leaves roughly 130 children they are unable to service, Hill said. The number of kids they cannot serve has increased during COVID-19, and he has stated a goal of doubling the number of volunteers in the first year.
Hill also wants to raise a greater sense of community among volunteers by increasing peer support and starting “Tuesday’s with CASA.” The virtual program will take place the second Tuesday of every month and include a guest speaker and breakout sessions to help volunteers get to know each other.
Hill also sees increasing the knowledge of CASA in the community as important, not only for fundraising but also to raise awareness about the work of the organization.
Hill encouraged those interested in volunteering to visit casaoflcbwc.org to learn more. Due to COVID-19, in-person volunteer training has moved to online training including some self-paced courses.
For those who do volunteer, Hill emphasized the importance of seeing at least one case through in order to provide that child consistent support. Cases may last from 18-24 months.
“It’s important that people be able if they get involved in a child’s life to fill out a full case,” he said.
Thom Bridge, Helena Independent Record, September 2, 2020
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