In 1976, Superior Court Judge David Soukup of Seattle, Washington, observed a recurring problem in the courtroom. He recognized that there was too little information available to base life-changing decisions about the safety, permanency and well-being of children. To address this problem, he raised funds to recruit and train community volunteers to speak on behalf of children in court. In 1977, a CASA pilot program was formed based on Judge Soukup’s idea. In 1982, the National CASA/GAL Association for Children was established to direct CASA’s emerging national presence. CASA reached Georgia in 1988, when Georgia CASA began and established two pilot programs.
It didn’t take long for the Chatham County’s Juvenile Court Judge, The Honorable John Beam, to realize that our community would greatly benefit from this program. Judge Beam wasted no time in establishing a committee and starting Savannah/Chatham County CASA.
In 1991, Savannah/Chatham CASA was formed. In 1993, it officially became its own 501(c)3 and soon after hired its first official executive director, Rebecca Zarada (now Lentz). Rebecca, her six successors, and the many staff members worked tirelessly to ensure the program had the support and investment necessary to train community volunteers to advocate for the children who experienced abuse and neglect in our community. Since 1991, more than 2,000 community volunteers have advocated for the best interests of our community’s children.
Celebrating 30 Years
In honor of our anniversary, we sought to identify 10 individuals who contributed to the success of the organization throughout the last 30 years. This was no easy task. I’ve spent the last month talking to past staff, board members, and volunteers to select the past board members that not only contributed their time, talent, and resources but also those who lead the organization during some of our most challenging times. We are excited to honor these 10 individuals on Thursday, October 21st at the Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum. Our selected honorees contributed to the growth and success of Savannah CASA.
However, there are so many more who served as board members, CASA volunteers, and staff that also deserve recognition. We are working hard to compile that list and invite each and every one of them to our celebration so that we may honor them as well. Unfortunately, access to older files are limited. We need help to ensure all involved in the history of our organization are present at our event. Please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have current contact information of any past board members, staff, or supporters.
Last but not certainly not least, Savannah CASA would not exist without our volunteers. They are at the heart of our mission. This is why in addition to our anniversary celebration, we will host a special breakfast celebration focused solely on their contributions on Tuesday, November 2nd. This event will be closed to the public and free for all current CASA volunteers and their guests. We are excited to announce that Judge LeRoy Burke will be our keynote speaker at our breakfast.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR - Kate Blair