This month's CASA Spotlight features Charylene Smith who serves as a CASA volunteer working with abused and neglected children in Craig County.

To help people better understand what it takes to be a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer, Child Advocates of Northeast Oklahoma (CANO) spotlights one of its advocates each month. This month’s CASA Spotlight features Charylene Smith who serves as a CASA volunteer working with abused and neglected children in Craig County.

With a tremendous love for children, this retired teacher brings a straight-forward, no-nonsense style to working on the CASA cases to which she is assigned.

Born and raised in Texas, Smith began her teaching career there before moving to Cimarron County, Oklahoma, where she continued her profession as both a teacher and a principal. Before retiring, she was the Title I Coordinator in Walsh, Colorado.

Smith and her husband raised their son and daughter in Keyes, Oklahoma, where her husband managed a ranch. Unfortunately, in 2002 her husband was killed in a ranching accident.

After retiring from her position in Walsh, Smith moved to Oklahoma to be near her grown children and her four “perfect” grandchildren. After the move, she began seeing ads on television about CASA and thought it might be something she would be interested in doing because of her love for children.

With a huge “heart” for kids, she explained, “Teachers know things are going on a lot sooner than anybody else does because they have the kids the majority of the day. You don’t necessarily know specific things that are going on, but you know there is a reason this kid is not getting his homework done. Through experience, you can spot the kiddos that are having extreme problems.” So, in 2014, Smith decided to take the training to become a CASA volunteer.

While she enjoys the CASA work, she stresses that the sadness that is involved with the cases breaks one’s heart. But it brings her far greater joy to be able to help these children. She shared that her joy comes from, “that I might be able to bring some tiny, tiny piece of relief to those kiddos, to provide some answers to their problems, and to assist in getting them what they need to progress.”

She continued, “As a teacher, I always felt that after they left my 6th grade class, they would be out in the big wide world and the world was going to eat them up, so I wanted to get them ready before they left my class. I feel very protective that way – of the classes that I taught and of my CASA children.”

Smith indicates one of the biggest challenges in being a CASA volunteer comes with dealing with parents who are failing to be a good parent.

“I just want parents to be parents. I felt that way as a teacher in school, too," said Smith. "In the Bible, God gives you a mom and a dad and there’s a reason. It’s because children need a mom and a dad. However, when moms or dads spend their time hurting their children, I don’t have a lot of patience for that parent, because their child is going to suffer from their inadequacies the rest of their lives.”

However, Smith indicates that there are rewards in being a CASA, too.

She shared, “The biggest reward is finally seeing children have a good, stable permanency in their life – and to finally have the chance to become a productive member of society and to feel good about themselves – to be able to get past the bad stuff and to go on with their lives."

When asked about the activities she does with the children on her CASA cases, Smith said, “I like to visit one-on-one with them in their rooms, so I can see what their little life is like. I do not like to ask all of those prying questions that they have had to repeat 150 times. I just want them to be able to share with me what they are comfortable to share.”

“I also enjoy going with DHS if they do family visits,” she continued. “I enjoy going with them, so I can just glean from their conversations and their questions what I need to know. I can certainly have input with any of that and have always been welcomed to do that.”

“I will tell you that Craig County DHS is incredible,” Smith added. “They are right on target with what they do, and they include me in everything. They answer every question I have and they’re incredible in that way.”

When asked what she would tell someone considering becoming a CASA volunteer, Smith stated, “I would tell (them) that they better be able to endure the hardships that they are going to see, the things that these little kiddos are going through. And they better be able to step up and say what’s right or wrong in these situations and be willing to put the facts out there.”

Sandra Rains, Advocate Coordinator for Craig and Rogers County, underscored Smith’s readiness to state the facts. Sandra shared, “Smith is very nurturing and has a sweet disposition, but she doesn't have an issue with speaking up during meetings or hearings about her concerns on her cases. She uses her words wisely and is very articulate in getting her point across. Craig County is very fortunate to have Smith as a CASA volunteer.”

CANO is grateful to the dedicated men and women, like Smith, who have stepped up to advocate for abused and neglected children in northeast Oklahoma. Please join us in thanking Smith for service to the children in foster care in Craig County.

Those interested in learning more about becoming a CASA volunteer can contact Gayle Hanson, Training Coordinator at 785-623-6955 or 918-325-7202 or via email at gayle@cano-casa.com. Additional information about becoming a CASA also can be found on the CANO website: http://cano-casa.com/volunteer.

Child Advocates of Northeast Oklahoma (CANO)

Child Advocates of Northeastern Oklahoma is a CASA agency that recruits, trains, and supports community volunteers who advocate for abused and neglected children involved in dependency court cases. Their main goal is to help ensure the children don’t get lost in the overburdened legal and social service systems.

With offices in Claremore and Miami, the organization supports CASA Volunteers in five counties in northeastern Oklahoma – Rogers, Mayes, Craig, Ottawa, and Delaware Counties.

CANO is a member agency of the United Way of Rogers and Mayes Counties and of Ottawa County United Way.