Call it extreme foresight.
Years before the state Supreme Court mandated counties to start organizations that train volunteers to advocate for children in need of care, Douglas County District Court Judge Jean Shepherd helped found the state's first Citizen Review Board.
Five years later, Shepherd also helped found Douglas County CASA Inc., which serves a similar purpose.
"It's just kind of serendipity that they both have these big anniversaries this year, and I'm glad I get to see it," Shepherd said. "When you start these programs, you don't know if they are going to really take hold or if they are going to last for a couple of years and fade out, and I feel certain that these programs are permanently here."
This year, the Douglas County Citizen Review Board celebrates its 20th anniversary, and Douglas County CASA Inc. celebrates its 15th year.
Dozens gathered to honor Shepherd on Thursday evening at Corpus Christi Catholic Church. Beginning in 2007, an annual award will be given to a volunteer from each organization and named for her.
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"We decided it was only fitting to have both anniversary celebrations together, and it was only fitting to honor (Shepherd), who is basically the founder of both programs," said Kerry Tummons, executive director of CASA, or Court Appointed Special Advocates.
Volunteers for both groups help advocate for children in need of care who have possibly been abused and have to appear in court. The volunteers review the child's case, interview parties involved and help judges determine where best to place the children, which can be back with their families or possibly in adoption.
"It takes the community to be aware that there is a child-abuse problem in Douglas County, and it takes the community to solve it," Tummons said.
CRB volunteers also help process juvenile offender cases.
CASA, a United Way-sponsored agency that receives funding from additional sources, has served more than 625 abused or neglected children in the county since it began. It now has 50 active volunteers with another class in training. About 40 people currently serve with the grant-funded CRB.
Both organizations' volunteers also work with the children in all facets of their lives, including the school and possibly mental health systems, Shepherd said.
As the organizations look to the future, both directors hope to reach out to find volunteers from a younger generation and from more diverse backgrounds.
"As the population of Lawrence continues to diversify, so does our need for volunteers representing all of the kids," said Heather Krase-Minnick, the CRB's director.
The directors, volunteers and friends lauded Shepherd on Thursday.
"She is an expert in her field, and an outstanding advocate for children and is known across the state and I assume across the country in fact for her work on the behalf of children," Krase-Minnick said.
Shepherd returned the praise.
"They are the ones who make the big commitment of time. It's not their job; they do it out of love," said Shepherd, who has served as a district judge since 1984.