Lawrence woman named 2019 CASA Volunteer of the Year for Kansas
photo by: Kathy Hanks
When an email from CASA showed up, Kristina Chartrand figured it was announcing the volunteer of the year, and she thought she’d check it later to see if someone she knew had received the honor.
Before she could check, Amy Buchele-Ash, her CASA advocate coordinator, called to congratulate her.
Kristina was stunned to learn that she had been named the 2019 volunteer of the year by the Kansas Court Appointed Special Advocates Association.
“I haven’t been with CASA for two full years,” she said, speaking with the Journal-World Friday morning.
However, Erick Vaughn, executive director of Douglas County CASA, said that in the time she had been a volunteer, Kristina had accepted and continued working on a challenging case of two siblings, advocating to preserve family relationships.
“The reason she was nominated is that she really has advocated making sure that the siblings continue to maintain contact with each other and with family members,” Vaughn said. “That’s huge for these kids. If they get pulled away from their biological family, we want to make sure they make contact with them as much as possible.”
The Kansas CASA Association is a network of 23 community-based programs that recruit, train and support citizen volunteers to advocate for the best interests of abused and neglected children in courtrooms. Kristina is the only continuity the siblings have had, Vaughn said.
Currently, there are 185 kids in Douglas County in out-of-home placement. CASA is working with 104 of those cases, Vaughn said, with the help of 88 volunteers.
Becoming a CASA volunteer was something Kristina wanted to do for a long time.
“I came from a rough childhood,” Kristina said. “I should have been a foster child, but there wasn’t anyone there to notice. I grew up advocating for myself. I realized I had it in me, and I wanted to advocate for kids who didn’t have that.”
It wasn’t long after she began with CASA that she noticed the young boys in the Douglas County Juvenile Detention Center who needed male advocates.
“Once she got into it, I saw how committed she was and how important the role was,” said Kristina’s husband, Chris Chartrand. “She said ‘You know we can use some more guys.'”
“I hounded him,” Kristina said. “There were so many young men who could use a good role model.”
photo by: Kathy Hanks
Chris, a full-time training officer and pilot in the Kansas Army National Guard, signed up and also went through the 30 hours of training. Now the Chartrands, who have a blended family of four, are advocating for kids in the courtroom. But they aren’t just there for court hearings. They are there whenever the youth need to talk by phone or in person.
Chris is working with a teenage boy removed from the home in Douglas County. The boy is now in a youth center near Wichita. Although the cases originate in Douglas County, the kids go to where secure placement is available.
“Their CASA kids can be anywhere around the state,” Vaughn said. “Our volunteers end up driving a lot.”
Being a CASA volunteer has given Kristina a crash course on kids facing everything from serious mental health needs to human trafficking. The experience has inspired her to return to school.
This past fall, she entered a master’s degree program in social work at Wichita State University. She felt frustrated not knowing how to help the kids she was working with.
“My goal is to learn as much as I can,” Kristina said.
She appreciates Buchele-Ash, one of four part-time advocate coordinators. Kristina calls her day and night when she needs advice regarding her CASA kids.
“It’s a partnership,” Buchele-Ash said.
Many of the CASA kids are caught in intergenerational family conflicts, something Kristina is very sensitive to. She knows how different life could have turned out for her. Instead, she bucked up and raised her younger brother and sister.
“I don’t know what made me so lucky,” she said. “And so different. I am trying to recognize that and give it to others.
“How was I able to maintain my inner north star and not get off the path?”
The intergenerational trauma people face has her intrigued, and she hopes to explore it deeper.
“I want to know how to intervene and stop it,” she said.