Cheryl Seitz and Claudia Geise were honored as Child Advocates of the Year during an annual Family Advocates banquet celebrating all the organization’s volunteers.
Karen Biernacki, CEO of Family Advocates, said she was honored to know those who have dedicating themselves to caring for children.
“This is a celebration,” Biernacki said. “You are truly changing lives and touching hearts every day by listening to children and ensuring their needs are met.”
Juvenile Magistrate W. Jonathan Forker, with La Porte Circuit Court, said the program was vital to children from broken homes or in traumatic circumstances who need responsible adults in their lives.
“Honestly, I don’t know what we did before we had these programs,” Forker said. “I do appreciate what you do. You put everything you have into it, and the kids know that.”
Geise, honored for her work as a court-appointed special advocate, or CASA, talked about her five-year relationship with two brothers with high-functioning autism.
The retired special-education teacher said maintaining a stable and consistent relationship with the boys was a lot of work but well worth the effort.
“You get a lot more out of it than you ever put into it,” she said.
CASAs are trained volunteers appointed by judges to advocate for the best interests of abused and neglected children in court and other settings.
Geise supports Family Advocates not only as a CASA but by offering complimentary lodging to foster parents and hosting fundraising events as innkeeper of the historic Tryon Farm.
Seitz, honored as a court-appointed youth advocate, or CAYA, was introduced by Ethan Aikman, a 16-year-old who thanked Seitz for her consistent and reliable support over the past two years.
“Cheryl’s compassion and patience continues to effect the youth she works with and encourages these young adults to become contributing members of their families and communities,” said Brenda Stellema, director of the CAYA program for Family Advocates.
The CAYA program works with young people judged to be delinquent by the courts by promoting intervention services and providing a positive mentor.
Stellema said the emotional moment between Seitz and her teenage charge was evidence of the important work done by volunteers and sponsors.
“What you do matters,” she said.
The banquet at Pottawattomie Country Club followed a daylong community training session, “There’s No Place Like Home: Permanency for All Children.”
Keynote speaker Sue Badeau, a nationally known author and consultant as well as a foster parent for more than 50 children, compared programs for children to jumper cables when your battery dies, saying another vehicle is always needed.
“Tools and the knowledge to use them are worthless unless you have connections,” she said.