By Chelsea Hanson, What’s Up Magazine (Published 9/22/16)
“I’m not proud of what I’ve done,” Howe says of her cases. “I’m proud of where they’ve chosen to go and through the adversity and things that they handled in their young lives, that they’ve found the courage and the motivation and the inner strength to persevere.”
Hanging on the wall in the CASA office, located inside the Anne Arundel County Circuit Courthouse, is a painting of a big black-eyed Susan titled “Maryland’s Child.” This December, Pat Howe, the artist behind the painting, will celebrate her 10th year as a CASA volunteer.
“CASA is an acronym and it stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates,” Howe says. “We are volunteers, we are highly trained and we are appointed by a judge.”
The CASA program assigns volunteers to children who have been removed from their home due to neglect or abuse. “They go before a judge and if the judge determines they need to stay within the foster care system and the judge feels like they really need to understand what’s going on in this child’s life to make the best decisions, they then assign a CASA,” Howe says.
Anne Arundel County CASA began helping children in July of 1997, according to its website. However, the program was started 20 years prior by a Seattle Superior Court Judge in 1977.
Howe says CASA volunteers have the authority to speak to lawyers, doctors, teachers, and everyone involved in the child’s life in order to get a better understanding of what’s happening.
“We focus on one child,” Howe says. “We are the eyes and ears for the judge and we are basically the only one in that child’s life who is not compensated to be there. We do it because we care and because we want to make sure that whatever’s happening in that child’s life is well represented.”
Howe has had four CASA cases in her 10 years as a volunteer. She prefers to work with the older kids because of her experience as a former high school art teacher.
“I think some people may be intimidated by some of the older kids but you know it’s like, ‘Bring ‘em on!’” Howe says.
When a CASA volunteer is assigned, they stay with that child until their case is closed, which can take years.
“The CASA supervisors do a wonderful job of matching the child’s situation with the personality of a volunteer because they want it to be a long-term bonding,” Howe says. “We take them out; we do fun things with them. We get to know this child.”
Howe, a native of Baltimore, heard about CASA through a radio ad when she lived in Charlottesville, Virginia. After moving to Annapolis in 2006, she became a volunteer with the program in Anne Arundel County.
“I sort of am a jack of all trades when it comes to CASA,” Howe says. “I love to help out anywhere I can because I’m so passionate about what this program does.”
Howe is currently working on a marketing project for the organization. She is also on the advisory board for The Blue Ribbon Project, an Annapolis-based nonprofit that assists children who are victims of abuse or neglect.
In addition to being a CASA, Howe is an artist. Each year she does a painting for CASA’s gala auction in November. She said “Maryland’s Child” was her first donation to CASA.