From left at Thursday’s CASA graduation in Cass County Family Court: Tammy Bentley of Edwardsburg, Director Jim Ward, Celia Fallon of Birch Lake, Emma Miller of Three Rivers, Judge Susan Dobrich, Dee Herman of Eau Claire, Julie Hopp of Vandalia, Tammy Rank of Dowagiac and Erica Boulanger of CASA.

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CASA graduates six

Published 5:46pm Thursday, March 15, 2012

CASSOPOLIS — Six women graduated into Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Thursday before Cass County Family Court Judge Susan Dobrich, who founded the program in 1995.

Nobody longs for a safe and loving family more than a child in foster care.

CASA volunteers, who crammed 35 hours of training into 3 1/2 weeks, are empowered by the courts to help make that dream reality.

CASAs are one consistent adult in children’s lives, fighting for and protecting their fundamental right to be treated with dignity and respect.

Cass County’s is one of 24 such programs in Michigan.

Julie Hopp, of Vandalia, is the mother of a preschooler and works for Press Ganey, which helps other companies improve customer service and quality, specializing in health care. She volunteers with Council on Aging and the animal shelter.

Emma Miller, of Three Rivers, is a hairstylist with a salon in Jones. She is also a licensed emergency medical technician and firefighter.

Celia Fallon, of Birch Lake, is married and has four grown children. She recently retired from St. Mary’s College, where she was academic administrative assistant for more than 20 years. Fallon is a volunteer mentor at a South Bend high school.

Tammy Rank, of Dowagiac, works for the post office in Berrien Springs. The mother of two is a member of the Cass County Jail Navigators. She’s going back to school to pursue a criminal justice degree.

Deloris “Dee” Herman, of Eau Claire, works in information technology with Dowagiac Union Schools. Married, with two children, she proved “quite the baker” during training. She volunteers at Christmas to help needy students and teaches adult computer classes.

Tammy Bentley, of Edwardsburg, is married and the mother of three grown children. She is regional director of STRIVE, which opened a Dowagiac office. STRIVE is a non-profit workforce development agency which helps people find and maintain jobs.

“Their unique skills and experiences are going to help them become very effective advocates for abused and neglected children,” CASA Director Jim Ward said of his fourth class.

CASA 15-member board President Barb Strlekar said, “You’ve chosen a very difficult volunteer service, but it will be very rewarding.”

Judy Lawrence and John Vylonis of Dowagiac are new board members, joining Beth Cripe and Denise Wierman.

Prosecutor Victor Fitz, who read to students at Justus Gage in Dowagiac and Sam Adams in Cassopolis for United Way’s Reading Day of Action, said, “They are bundles of energy and sponges. We’re dealing with May in March, just as these kids are growing up fast. Every experience, good and bad, will impact them. I know Judge Dobrich seldom hears me talk about flowers coming up, but these kids are going to be adults in our community before we know it, and you will have a positive impact on how they are as adults.”

Also speaking at graduation were Sandra Gonzalez of the Department of Human Services, Niles attorney and guardian ad litem Carol Bealor and CASA volunteer Marvin Middleton.

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