Greene Co. Child Advocate Named CASA Volunteer of the Year

Don Merzlak honored for work on behalf of Tennessee children

NASHVILLE, Feb. 5, 2008 -- Don Merzlak of Mosheim has been named the 2008 CASA Volunteer of the Year by the Tennessee Bar Association Young Lawyers Division.

Each year, the Young Lawyers Division (YLD) selects a Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) volunteer from nominations made by Tennessee's local CASA agencies. CASA volunteers are appointed by judges to advocate for the best interests of abused and neglected children and to ensure they do not get lost in the legal system or languish in an inappropriate group or foster home. The annual award recognizes a court appointed special advocate who goes the extra mile in his or her work with a CASA program in the state.

In choosing Merzlak as this year's award recipient, the YLD selection committee focused on the longevity of his service, his reputation as a CASA advocate and the lasting contributions he has made to the program in northeast Tennessee.

Merzlak has served as a court appointed special advocate in Greene County for seven years, handling 34 cases and going well beyond the call of duty in helping children find safe and stable homes. In nominating this volunteer, Stephanie Sanders, executive director of CASA of Northeast Tennessee, referenced two instances in which his commitment to the CASA mission solidified the agency's presence in northeast Tennessee. First, Sanders cited Merzlak's level of commitment and standards of excellence, which she says, established credibility for the program with local judges. A second lasting contribution Merzlak made to the local program, she says, was his decision to remain an active volunteer during a time when the agency was struggling to survive. Many volunteers abandoned the program at that time, but Merzlak remained a strong voice for abused and neglected children. As a result of that commitment, the agency was able to regain its footing and grow to be a strong, solid presence in northeast Tennessee. Sanders also praised the quality of Merzlak's work and his enthusiasm for his work. In fact, soon after becoming a CASA volunteer, he recruited his wife Pat to get involved as well.

In addition to these major contributions to the CASA program, Merzlak has made – and continues to make – significant daily contributions in the lives of the children he represents. As Sanders says, "Don gives his all to every case...showing the same type of dedication and perseverance that he would…to his own children if necessary." Sanders also remarked that he approaches each case with a sense of urgency and importance, and that the quality of his advocacy has never "dipped below the mark of excellence." Finally, she noted that Merzlak's commitment is infectious. Soon after becoming a CASA volunteer, he recruited his wife Pat to join the cause. After she completed the training process, they began to work as a team and together have impacted the lives of dozens of children and families.

Both Merzlak and the agency that nominated him will receive a cash award and be recognized at the Young Lawyers Division's mid-winter board dinner on Jan. 18 in Nashville.

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The Tennessee Bar Association (TBA) is the largest professional association in Tennessee with more than 13,000 members. Founded in 1881, the TBA provides opportunities for continuing legal education, professional development and public service. The TBA’s dedication to serving the state’s legal community is evidenced by its membership roll, which represents the entire spectrum of legal practice: plaintiff and defense lawyers, corporate counsel, judges, prosecutors, public defenders, government lawyers and legal services attorneys.

For More Information

Stacey Shrader Joslin
Tennessee Bar Association
(615)277-3218
221 Fourth Ave. N., Suite 400
Nashville, TN 37219

Additional Information

Learn more about the CASA Volunteer of the Year Award

Download a headshot of Merzlak

Download a photo of Merzlak accepting the award
pictured with Chattanooga lawyer and YLD Children's Issues Committee Co-Chair Blair Cannon