Instead of his usual yard work, retired Juvenile Court Judge Cliff Jolliff walked inside The Little House on Washington Street in Gainesville a month ago and started answering the phones for the Court-Appointed Special Advocates.
He jumped into the fold with fellow child advocates to handle some administrative duties while handling the loss of two of their longtime colleagues.
“They continue to get business done, but that emotional loss is still certainly felt,” said Juvenile Court Judge Lindsay Burton.
On June 8, the volunteer supervisor and “bulldog” advocate Cory Buckley died as a result of injuries sustained in a car crash. Ten days later, CASA lost its program director Lisa McCarthy.
“The loss has been devastating for our entire staff and our volunteers,” Hall-Dawson CASA executive director Connie Stephens said.
As news of McCarthy’s death spread through social media and word of mouth, Jolliff and other volunteers made their way over to CASA’s office on Washington Street to help in any way possible.
“(Jolliff) was there doing yard work already,” Stephens said. “That’s his contribution to CASA because he loves gardening.”
The loss of the two staff members on the nonprofit, Jolliff said, is a difficult blow for the group.
“The volunteers are faced with representing neglected and abused children, which is very depressing, so they always have to kind of have an upbeat, a smiling face to support and maintain the volunteers,” he said.
In the courtroom, Burton said the volunteers continue to soldier on while grieving. She still expects to see Burton sitting at the middle table, assisting the volunteers and holding the hands of kids in the system.
Two weeks ago, Burton recalled a young man’s story regarding his career goals and future dreams that caused misty eyes across the room.
“At the close of the case, he teared up and said, when we were discussing his future plans … ‘I want to make Cory proud.’ He teared up and it made the rest of us tear up,” she said.
On July 8, CASA was dealt a third blow in the death of Erin Jones. Dawson County authorities said Jones was shot to death by her live-in boyfriend.
“She would have loved to work in the CASA office and in fact mentioned that she would consider even potentially putting her resume in for that purpose,” Stephens said.
Jones, a 911 communication officer, appeared in Jolliff’s courtroom in Dawson County as a volunteer many times.
“She certainly was one of the more effective volunteer advocates in Dawson County for the last couple of years,” Jolliff said.
As the volunteers and CASA staff push forward, the caseload continues to climb. Stephens said the group helped 414 children in the last quarter, with 47 of those children being added within that time period.
“They would want us to carry on, and that’s what we’re doing to the best of our abilities,” Stephens said.
The group will conduct a volunteer training beginning on Aug. 11 for eight consecutive sessions. The trainings are every Tuesday from 5:30-8:30 p.m. The building is at 603 Washington St. SW in Gainesville. For more information, visit halldawsoncasa.org.
What: CASA volunteer training
When: Every Tuesday beginning Aug. 11, 5:30-8:30 p.m.
Where: 603 Washington St. SW, Gainesville
Must consent to background check
Must supply references
Must attend all eight training sessions
Must have good communication skills and commitment to help children