Lucy Wieland gets annual volunteer award from CASA

Thursday, October 25, 2012
After more than 17 years as a volunteer in the CASA program, Lucy Wieland was honored at the 2012 Indiana GAL/CASA Volunteer of the Year. Presenting the award to Wieland (middle) were Justice Steven David and state CASA Director Leslie Dunn. (Courtesy photo)

There are some people in this world who choose to put others' well being first, before their own. Putting others first is exactly what Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Lucy Wieland does.

In a recent ceremony, Wieland was honored for her CASA volunteer efforts as the 2012 Indiana GAL/CASA Volunteer of the Year.

The CASA program, which was started by Judge David Soukup in Seattle in 1977, is a program designed to give abused or neglected children a voice in court.

The CASA program in Putnam County was started by Judge Diana LaViolette in the mid-'90s, under the Putnam County Youth Development Commission.

In the United States today, there are more than 450,000 children who are involved in the court system due to abuse, neglect or both. They may remain in their own homes, be placed with relatives or be put into foster homes or institutions. Trained community volunteers, like Wieland, who are appointed by Judge Matthew Headley, speak up for the abused and neglected children in the court system and advocate for what is in the child's best interest.

"I have always liked doing more than just teaching the child an academic subject," explained Wieland. "I'd like to have a real relationship with the child and their family."

A former educator with training in special needs and an emphasis on autism, Wieland joined the program more than 17 years ago and has handled more than 40 cases. Now retired from teaching, Wieland still works as an independent autism consultant and tutor and is the go-to person when other CASA volunteers need help in these areas.

She is able to spend more time traveling to visit the children she serves, attend workshops to continue her advocacy education and share her CASA volunteer story with others.

Additionally, Wieland is an advocate with other organizations as a board member of the Mary Allison Children's Trust, Mental Health American Putnam County, and co-founder of the Non-food Pantry at St. Andrew's Church.

"I thought this was something I could do for a while. I did find that it was a good use of the training I've had. I'm an educator," explained Wieland. "It was something that appealed to me personally, it uses my expertise. As a retired person (CASA) really enables me to keep up on what's new in different areas. It's very fulfilling to me personally."

It has been estimated that this year alone, Wieland has logged more than 2,500 miles during her volunteer efforts.

"Numerous examples can be shared where Lucy has gone the extra mile for a child, but always stays within the standards and expectations of the county, state and national CASA policies and procedures," said PCYDC CASA Director Patti Harmless. "She leaves no stone unturned as she researches creative ways to enhance and advocate for a child's education, gives parental tips on child development and parenting, observes parent and child interactions and then makes factually based recommendations to the court."

Wieland's special education training has led her not only to be a go-to person in the CASA program, but has also handed her more difficult cases.

"While working full time as an autism specialist for Old National Trail Educational Cooperative, she was consistently willing to take the most complicated cases," explained Harmless. "Lucy perseveres and fights for all children she serves with calmness, steadfastness and a determination to keep questioning, gently pushing and convincing until safe, loving and permanent homes or independence can be achieved."

Currently, Wieland is working on two cases, both of which she has overseen for a few years. Wieland goes above and beyond to make the children feel comfortable not only with her, but with themselves as well. She encourages the children to break out of their shells, learn to become independent and pursue college.

"The important thing is that the bond that I have and the caring that I do have to lead that individual to not be dependent on me," Wieland said. "When I'm no longer the CASA, they have to be able to stand on their own."

After all these years, one would believe that the job would become routine or easier. However, the job is ever changing and when dealing with young children or young adults, things are never easy.

"Lucy is completely dedicated to her clients," said a client of Wieland. "She is willing to work it out and to see us as much as she can. I have never known a more caring and gentle person."

It is her devotion to each case that Wieland was able to receive such an award. No matter what difficulties may stand in her way, she keeps with the program thanks to her family's support and the longing to help children have a better life.

"Having your own support system I think is important. I'm very fortunate because my family has always supported me," explained Wieland. "He's (Wieland's husband Bill) given up our personal time together to allow me to do this. That has been something I do want people to know. For me it's been essential that my family has supported that effort."

Wieland was given her award at the 16th Annual Indiana State CASA Conference in Indianapolis on Oct. 13 after Judi Scheer and the Putnam County Youth Development Commission nominated her.

The process involved writing a detailed narrative explanation, which more than 60 CASA directors across the state read to determine the winner of the award.

"We are just so honored that Lucy was selected as the CASA Volunteer of the Year," Harmless said. "The thing that I love most about Lucy is that she is never flustered. It's not an easy volunteer job. She does everything with this calmness. Lucy is a wonderful, caring CASA volunteer that brings integrity and dedication to our program."

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