MICHIGAN CITY — Family Advocates awarded Lorraine Tighe the fourth annual Advocate of the Year award in addition to recognizing other volunteers at Pottawattomie County Club on Friday.
The organization's Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program addresses youth who have been abused or neglected, and the organization's Court Appointed Youth Advocates (CAYA) program works with delinquent youth.
State Rep. Scott Pelath said in his keynote address the most important way to help children is to help the economy because income is a contributing factor to everything these programs address.
Income dwarfs every other contributing factor, he said.
The trend through recent decades of no wage growth in Indiana is a problem, as is the fact that many of the new jobs, which are counteracting Indiana's unemployment, are still poverty-level jobs, he said.
Other policies of concern are the lack of funding for public schools, where the children most in need go to school, and the opposition to the common construction wage, which has been in place for about 80 years, he said.
Attracting the largest, most progressive employers will help the state's youth, as will focusing on improving skills, he said.
"Over the last few weeks, we saw what happens when you appear intolerant," he said about the Religion Freedom Restoration Act.
He believes government can still be a force for good, but nothing takes the place of effort on the part of volunteers, he said.
"You have done more than any government program could do," he said.
Lindsay Malik, CASA program director for La Porte County, said an illustration on why Tighe, a CASA volunteer, was chosen for this year's award was her voicemail: "Make a difference today." Malik also noted the cheerful tone.
"It's the most uplifting voicemail ever," Malik said.
This cheerfulness is despite the situations she handles. She often gets screamed at and remains calm and forgiving, Malik said.
Tighe attributed her ability to handle this criticism to her experience as a seventh-grade teacher. She said the children she works with are amazing.
The CASA program also has helped her learn, she said, and now she can help other people with what she knows about all the types of help available in their own community.
Wendy and Kirt Steele, the adoptive parents of children Tighe advocated for, also praised her work while they and their children were in the fostering stage. Wendy Steele said she would call Tighe while having a nervous breakdown, but Tighe would remain compassionate.
"She would remind me, 'These kids are OK, and they're going to be OK,'" Wendy Steele said.
The CASA program is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, Family Advocates CEO Karen Biernacki said. The three past winners of this yearly award are Fred Conner, Jo Ann Engquist and Pam Kukla.
Each advocate brings unique skills, Engquist said, and the advocates work together. The fact that all backgrounds can help is a beautiful aspect of the program, she said. She helps with special education children because of her past work as a teacher for special education.
Engquist has been in the program for about 13 years, and Conner has been in it for more than 17.
He said his communication skills, which he may have developed in part as the business manager at B & E Marine, play an important role. A big need is more advocates, especially ones who are men, because too few men join, he said.
Many advocates were honored in both the CASA and CAYA programs in La Porte and Pulaski counties.
Also honored were the winners of the organization's "Wings of Blue" art contest, with art that attempted to capture the feelings of children in situations of crisis.
Among high school students, 10th-grader Ruben Davila of La Porte High School won first, 11th-grader Elizabeth Searle of LPHS won second and Isabelle Voltz of Michigan City High School won third.
Among middle school students, seventh-grader Ophelia Faulkner of Boston Middle School won first and Teja Simmons of Boston won second.