CASA of the Continental Divide marks 20 years of helping abuse victims with harrowing, inspiring stories
Speaking with confidence and grace, Jewel Arledge stood before a roomful of people Wednesday night at the Silverthorne Pavilion and recounted the hell that was her childhood.
Now 20, Arledge works two jobs as she takes classes full-time at Red Rocks Community College. She’ll soon transfer to Metropolitan State University of Denver, where she’ll pursue a double major, and she has designs on chasing a doctorate degree in corporate law after that.
“I’m not slowing down anytime soon,” she said.
Arledge was one of several guest speakers Wednesday night as CASA of the Continental Divide celebrated its 20th birthday, thanked its donors and honored two of its success stories.
But life wasn’t always this good for the super-busy college student. She was mistreated, belittled, neglected and emotionally and physically abused after her biological father was sent to prison when she was just 2 years old and her family torn apart.
The perpetrator was her mother, whom Arledge described as an unstable drug addict and alcoholic who suffered from mental and physical illness as she exposed her children to “every form of abuse imaginable” until Arledge was put in foster care at age 15.
As bad as things were for her, Arledge stood before the roomful of local professionals, court-appointed special advocates, courtroom officials and nonprofit supporters as a shining, smiling example of the work CASA does.
How to Help
CASA of the Continental Divide serves Clear Creek, Eagle, Lake and Summit counties in Colorado’s 5th Judicial District, with court-appointed volunteers taking on the role of advocates for abused and neglected children. For more information volunteering, go to MTNCasa.org. The nonprofit also accepts donations, and anyone interested in helping the nonprofit financially can mail them to:
CASA of the Continental Divide
PO Box 2092
Dillon, CO 80435
Arledge said a court-appointed special advocate is someone who voluntarily enters the life of an abused child, but hers was so much more. And Arledge thinks that CASA’s work is more valuable because it comes from volunteers.
Going through the foster care system, Arledge said, she felt like nothing more than a name on a file.
“My CASA didn’t do that,” she recalled. “It was about who I was, where I was and where I wanted to be. It was so personalized, I never felt like I was just another file on her shelf.”
CASA of the Continental Divide trains volunteers to become advocates for children who fall victim to abuse and neglect. Volunteers are screened before receiving comprehensive training, including being educated in the roles of the Department of Human Services, judicial system and many of the community resources available to the children and families involved in these cases.
The volunteers, or CASAs, appointed by courts generally work on one case at a time. They’re tasked with providing factual, unbiased information about a child’s situation that helps the court make more informed decisions in the best interest of that “kiddo,” to borrow some of Arledge’s language.
The night’s second speaker, Mark Thompson, chief justice of the Fifth Judicial District, referred to CASA’s volunteers as the “eyes and ears” of the court, someone who’s removed from the court system and the abusers.
“They’re a friend, and that’s what (the children) need,” he said breaking up into tears. “I look at Jewel, and I think about all the little kids that I’ve seen in my courtroom over the years, and I can only hope they can find the same path as her.”
Doug DeLong, executive director of CASA of the Continental Divide, said the nonprofit has 32 active cases, and its volunteers typically spend about 18 months working a case, though that can vary depending on the child’s age and situation.
He said he’s proud of the work the volunteers and CASA staff does, as he added that the nonprofit currently has 36 volunteers and will be adding seven new ones after Feb. 28. Still, that’s not nearly enough.
After Arledge spoke, Summit County local Amy Geppi took the mic and talked about the blessing she and husband Barry Rubenstein received when they successfully adopted a girl named Lily in December 2012 with CASA’s help.
While Geppi addressed the crowd, Lily stood by her adoptive mother’s side, peering over a note card with the words “Thank you CASA” inscribed on the back. After Geppi was done, she passed the mic to her 6-year-old daughter, who wanted to say a few words herself.
“I love my mom and dad because they are so kind to me, and nice, and they’re also caring and sharing,” Lily said. “Thank you.”
Every situation is different, but these children need their advocates. After suffering all the verbal and physical assaults, Arledge said, she knows she won’t grow up to be like her mother.
“My whole life I have faced adversity, and I choose to survive,” Arledge explained. “Rather than letting the odds I face oppress me, I allowed it to spark a vicious fire inside, consuming all my fears, doubts and insecurities, turning them to ash and allowing me to rise each day with purpose.”
And she didn’t get here alone.
“CASA and (the volunteers) behind it, I don’t think people understand how crucial they are in children’s lives,” Arledge said.