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What's Up Magazine

Town Salute: Carol Heisterhagen of Casa of the Mid-Shore

Aug 08, 2016 12:00PM ● By Cate Reynolds
By Becca Newell

Carol Heisterhagen has spent the last 23 years advocating on behalf of abused and neglected children across the Mid-Shore. And, for her, that’s a privilege she’s honored to have experienced.

“In their darkest times, you can offer your hand to a child and they might just hang onto it. That’s amazing,” she says.

She began her time with CASA of the Mid-Shore as a Court Appointed Special Advocate—or CASA—volunteer and, later, as the Easton-based organization’s Executive Assistant, a position she retired from at the end of last month. Over her 16 years as a volunteer, Heisterhagen worked on 10 cases, with one particular case closing after four and a half years. (On average, cases span a year or two).

“Permanency is the whole goal,” says Assistant Director Susan Schumacher, who sat in on the interview at Heisterhagen’s request. “If a child remains in care, which is not the goal, but it can happen, we’ve been fortunate that the same CASA has stayed with that child."

The main responsibility of a CASA volunteer, while building a relationship with their assigned child, is to gather facts and information about what is best for the adolescent. This information, along with recommendations, is provided to the court. And no matter the obstacles—like a child too anxious and distraught to talk—Heisterhagen always found a way to develop unwavering, and trusting, friendships.

“You get the opportunity to listen,” she says. “And they can focus on being a kid and being a part of whichever home they’re in.”

Unlike the social workers—whom Heisterhagen describes as “incredible”—and their multiple caseloads, CASA volunteers have the ability to remain with one child at a time and, perhaps more importantly, communicate with them on a regular basis. Oftentimes, Heisterhagen and other CASAs, become trusted adults within those children’s lives because they are there for them.

“Depending on their situation, you’re free to spend time with them whenever,” she says, citing examples like taking a child out to dinner or visiting a nearby park together. “The huge piece is building the relationship with everyone involved.”

Once Heisterhagen has a clear understanding of the situation, she’s able to form a decision about the best—and safest—environment for that individual. After soliciting her recommendation to the social workers and judge, it’s up to the court to determine the outcome for the child.

“Sometimes it’s not what the child wants,” she says. “It can be tough in situations when all a child knows is that of an abusive relationship. We hope that our advocacy can provide them with a safer and happier alternative.”

Heisterhagen admits that it’s not always easy being a CASA volunteer. But, she adds, it’s the small victories over time that add up to how wonderful the work is.

“It’s empowering and rewarding,” she says. “When you see the end and it’s a good ending, you’re really happy. It makes your heart sing.”

For more information, visit Casamidshore.org.

Do you have a volunteer to nominate? Email Becca Newell at Bnewell@WhatsUpMag.com