For the Kids

Events Encourage Volunteers, Highlight Child Abuse

Young Lawyers Recognize CASA Volunteer of the Year

The Tennessee Bar Association Young Lawyers Division each year recognizes a Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) volunteer who goes the extra mile in his or her work on behalf of children in Tennessee. The honoree is selected from nominations submitted by CASA agencies across the state.

This year, the YLD recognized Dale Hedges of Clinton for his service as a volunteer with CASA of the Tennessee Heartland. Knoxville lawyer Katrina Atchley Arbogast, chair of the YLD Children’s Issues Committee, presented the award to Hedges at a dinner recently in Nashville. A cash gift also was presented to Naomi Asher, executive director of the agency to continue its mission of serving children in Anderson, Blount and Scott counties.

In nominating Hedges for the award, Asher stated he was the longest serving, and possibly the most effective, volunteer with the agency. “Dale speaks so effectively as an advocate for his CASA kids that the … staff cannot find one example in our records of a case where the recommendations made … were not accepted by the court.” She also noted that in several instances, the parties involved were so impressed with Hedges’ work that he was requested to handle subsequent cases. The YLD was impressed too.

Hedges, 84, has worked with CASA of the Tennessee Heartland for 18 years, serving 29 children in 19 separate cases. In reflecting on his years of volunteering, Hedges says, “There is nothing as rewarding and memorable as participating in the legal process of permanently removing an emotionally and/or physically … abused child from uncaring parents, and placing the child with parents who want to protect, love, cherish and take care of the child’s every need.”

In addition to his longevity as a volunteer, Asher says Hedges has an excellent reputation and has never wavered in his commitment to CASA. His enthusiasm for the program makes him an effective recruiter of new CASA volunteers. Hedges also frequently serves as a resource and mentor for younger or less experienced advocates.

Two years ago, Hedges decided to retire from CASA. That did not last long. Within six months, he was called on to represent four siblings who again found themselves in the court system. Hedges had worked with the family in the past and the presiding judge specifically asked him to take the case. He did and continues to represent the children today — volunteering more than 20 hours and driving more than 200 miles each month to visit one of the children who has special needs and lives in a residential facility several hours away. Despite the distance and the time commitment, Hedges visits the child each month and works on a weekly basis with teachers, therapists and medical providers to ensure that needed services are available.

How long Hedges will continue working with these children and whether he will once again attempt to retire remains to be seen. But if his track record is any indication, he will stay on the case until he is satisfied that everything that can be done has been done.

“Every child should be loved and cared for; volunteers can be an integral part of that process,” Hedges says of his motivation for continuing to serve. That is more than just a recruitment pitch to prospective advocates; it captures who Dale Hedges is at the core and why the YLD selected him as the 2013 CASA Volunteer of the Year.

— Stacey Shrader Joslin, TBA YLD director