The giving spirit
This holiday season, The Times each day will spotlight a person or couple who give of themselves to help others in the community. Today, meet Harvey Nowland, who has been volunteering with Hall-Dawson Court Appointed Special Advocates for the past eight years.
Address: P.O. Box 907471, Gainesville, GA 30501-0908
Eight years ago, Harvey Nowland received a letter in the mail telling him about Court Appointed Special Advocates. It was the beginning of his dedication to abused and neglected children.
"I was interested in making sure that any child that didn't have anybody looking out for them would have someone to advocate for them," the Gainesville man said.
Since receiving that letter and attending an information session, Nowland has been volunteering for Hall-Dawson CASA.
"It interested me greatly," he said of the organization's work. "I signed on right then."
That work includes being assigned allegedly abused or neglected children by a juvenile judge and investigating into the children's lives. That includes interviewing parents, teachers, neighbors, relatives and any other person who may have information about the child.
Nowland then makes a recommendation to the judge about what is best for the child and who should take custody. It's a recommendation that holds significant weight because of his extensive investigation.
"The best source of information the judges get very often comes from us," Nowland said of himself and other CASA volunteers.
The neglect and lack of love some children face sparked Nowland's interest in having an impact on children's lives. With such a large caseload within the Division of Family and Children Services, children often get overlooked, Nowland said.
"Hearing how these kids get lost and not really responded to by even family members very often is hard to imagine," he said. "Being a grandparent myself, I find that hard to imagine."
Through the investigations, Nowland often develops a personal relationship with the child, but gaining trust can take time, he said.
"Once the child understands we're not working for the government is the most important thing," Nowland said. "I don't mean to put them down, but it's true. Once a child knows that we're not with DFCS, they will talk pretty freely with us."
Building the relationship, however, can make a custody decision difficult. Sometimes the decision the child wants is not always the best, Nowland said. And those decisions can have tremendous impact.
"We see a lot of really good turnouts in this thing and then we see some that are not good at all," Nowland said.
But even the kids who may have found trouble after going through CASA still benefited, Nowland said.
"While they were here they were getting something that they wouldn't have gotten in their own families or in foster families," he said.
Currently, Nowland is appointed nine children; he estimates he's been appointed about 30 in his eight yeas of volunteering.
And each of those children has had an impact on his life.
"It makes me even more anxious to see to it because some of these kids just get really run over by family and the system, and it generates a lot of interest in me to keep on going," Nowland said.
The most important thing, though, is the impact Nowland can have on the children.
"I wish for these kids to realize that they're a person who really is important, and to look at themselves not like some other people may have looked at them, but how God has made them - capable. And not to be crushed under the load that they get from some of these outside influences," Nowland said.
With Christmas just a week away, Nowland is doing a little something extra for the children. He has helped purchase presents, and others have donated as well.
"They just are very gracious and open to helping these kids out with things that they wouldn't get otherwise," he said.