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Volunteer Spotlight: Marius & Elise de Waal

“I help abused and neglected children in my spare time, what do you do?” A bumper sticker with those very words made a big impression on Elise de Waal back in 2010. It was a question she carried with her for many years, across an ocean and back. When she and her then fiancé, Marius, returned to the United States from South Africa in 2012, she knew she had to answer that call for help. Lucky for us, she sold Marius on the idea as well.

When Elise and Marius began training to become CASA advocates, Marius began to wonder if he had made a mistake. He was not a “kid person”, he was intimidated by the stories he heard, and frankly, he wanted out. Elise understood as she was scared too. But, she kept asking the question, “If we don’t do it, who will?” Knowing they would be working together as partners, with the support of a CASA supervisor, relieved a lot of their fears. And, after taking their first case that involved three teenage boys, it was easy for Marius to see how important it was for these young men to have a positive, male role model in the their lives.

Nearly five years later, this power couple has worked four cases and made a real difference in the lives of 10 children. They’ve done everything from retrieve a child’s old clothes from a former foster home to fight for new treatment for an overmedicated child to reunite three brothers after months of separation.

As they work full-time (Elise, Financial Controller of Field Agent, and Marius, Senior Account Executive for Team Unilever Shopper), serving as partners means they can share the burden in time commitment and court appearances. By sharing the emotional burden as well, they were surprised at how easy it was for them to serve.

Elise and Marius are willing to share their story as they realize there are people out there who might be asking themselves the same questions they did back in 2012. Could I really make a difference? Do you really need men to serve? What if I mess up? Do I have enough time?

In response, they’d simply ask you, “If you don’t do it, who will?”

National CASA Conference

In March, six members of the CASA of Northwest Arkansas staff joined approximately 1,200 people from across the nation for the annual National CASA Conference. This year’s conference was held in Seattle, the birthplace of the CASA movement forty years ago. The theme, Building Brighter Futures for America’s Abused and Neglected Children, encouraged a reflection on the network’s strong foundation while emphasizing the need to prepare our teams for challenges in the future.

The three-day conference featured traditional break-out sessions in areas of program development, volunteer recruitment, marketing/fundraising, as well as critical issues impacting child welfare. Beyond informing, the conference provided an excellent opportunity to be inspired. The highlight of the conference was hearing directly from retired Judge David Soukup, the founder of the very first CASA program in 1977. The Judge shared his goals for the CASA network. First and foremost, he believed that every child in the system should have a CASA volunteer. You can imagine how delighted our staff was to hear that his goal echoed our local vision to serve every child in need by 2020.

The plenary sessions also featured the author of Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance, who reminded CASA supporters to approach these children and their families, often struck by the plague of poverty, with humility. Another memorable speaker was former foster child, Giovan Bazan, who showed how adversity and hardship can provide meaning and purpose in one’s life. He referred to his scars as proof he survived something that was meant to destroy him. You can imagine the impact he left on the audience.

In closing, the conference was an excellent opportunity for our staff to learn and network. But, more importantly, we left with the tools and inspiration to make a more significant impact on the children we serve.

In Good Company

Getting a foster child therapy is a collaborative effort. The judge orders it, the DHS coordinates it, the foster family transports the child, and the CASA volunteer makes sure all of the above happens in a timely manner!

Making sure abused and neglected children are armed with highly qualified CASA advocates is also a collaborative effort. Our organization requires financial support, from across our community, to make sure our volunteers have the training and support they need to make a difference in the lives of these children.

CASA of Northwest Arkansas is fortunate and proud to be sponsored by two corporations, Clorox and Coca-Cola, which not only value community but recognize that collaboration is key to productivity and success.

When asked about their generous support of CASA, they shared:

“It’s a privilege to support a great organization like CASA. With both a manufacturing facility and a sales office here in Northwest Arkansas there are more than 600 Clorox people who call this area home, and we take supporting the community seriously. We’re especially proud of members of our team who volunteer as trained advocates within the CASA organization and hope to continue to build on our connection with CASA.” – Mike Schmandt, Director of Sales, The Clorox Company

“As an advocate and a Coca-Cola employee, I am so proud Coca-Cola supports CASA. Working for a company that encourages and enables employees to make the world a happier and more optimistic place is a blessing. Coca-Cola supports CASA because we know the positive difference CASA advocates make for the children of Northwest Arkansas and we are honored to support such important work. So cheers to the advocates, volunteers and entire team for making our community a safer and happier place for children.” – Andi Pratt, Sr. Shopper Marketing Manager, Coca-Cola

Thank you, Clorox and Coca-Cola teams. Together, we are making the world a better place for the children we serve.


Celebrating Our Volunteers

Board member Chris Mitchell opened the evening by recognizing the enormous sacrifice our volunteers make in order to serve. Benton County Judge Tom Smith shared how valuable CASAs are in helping him make decisions on the bench. After thanking our partners, CASA recognized each volunteer and commemorated their years of service with lapel pins.

After attending Celebration of Success for the second year, CASA volunteer Pam Sweeney said, “It is an honor to serve the children of NWA, and this was a fantastic way to show us we are appreciated and to recognize our time invested. I loved attending Celebration of Success this year and being surrounded by all the people investing their time for the same purpose.”

CASA of NWA would like to thank all of the attendees, board members, and staff for making this a very special evening. We would also like to thank our sponsors who made this event possible: Anheuser-Busch, The Barn at the Springs, Bliss Cupcakes, Carrabba’s Italian Grill, and Trinchero Family Estates.

Light of Hope 2016

Another year has passed and another AMAZING Light of Hope has come and gone. On November 17, 2016, more than 1,000 CASA supporters gathered for breakfast and lunch to learn, to be inspired, and to become a part of the movement. Both events, presented by General Mills, raised more than $256,000 and recruited 120 prospective volunteers for CASA of Northwest Arkansas.

Who is to thank?

Our sponsors! The full list which can be found here includes our presenting sponsor, General Mills, along with our benefactor sponsors, The Clorox Company, Kimberly-Clark, Mitchell Williams, Sam’s Club, Tyson, and U.S. Nutrition, and our advocate sponsors, Mercy, Rockfish, and Truity Credit Union.

Our table captains!  One hundred and five caring and compassionate individuals stepped up to invite their colleagues and friends to join us for an inspirational day.

Our speakers!  We were honored to have a remarkable line-up for speakers this year. Our breakfast featured keynote speaker Judith McKenna (Chief Operating Officer, Walmart U.S.) while lunch featured Scott Rouse (Chief Customer Officer, Tyson Foods, Inc.). Both events were kicked off by amazing emcees, Marcus Osborne (Walmart) and Blake Woolsey (Mitchell Communications).

Our testimonial speaker, Lauren Waldon, brought a regal presence as Miss Arkansas International. And, no one can forget the smallest star of our show, Ben, whose video touched the hearts of so many.

Our advocates and children!  We would be no where without our advocates and the children we serve. This year, we also paid homage to the children we are unable to serve because we do not have enough advocates. The clothesline below displayed one shirt for every child still waiting for their CASA in Northwest Arkansas.

Lastly, we thank YOU, our guests and supporters, for taking time to remember our children and reflect on their experiences in foster care. We look forward to engaging you all again in November 2017.



If you would like to serve as a sponsor or table captain for this year’s event, please contact Colleen Smith, colleen@nwacasa.org. We would love for you to join us as we celebrate 20 years of advocacy in Northwest Arkansas.

20 Years of Impact

In 2017, CASA of Northwest Arkansas will celebrate 20 years of advocating for abused and neglected children in our region! Thank you to the thousands of volunteers and donors who have invested their time, resources, and passion in the children we serve.

Throughout the coming year, we will be gathering and sharing stories of our long history and extensive reach in this community. If you have such a story (as a former advocate, foster child or family, community partner, or donor) to add to our collection, please contact Colleen (colleen@nwacasa.org). We’d LOVE to hear from you.

Please stay tuned throughout the year as we reflect on our past success and look brightly toward the future.

Meeting the Need

In Northwest Arkansas alone, nearly 600 children are in care right now. Numbers like that can be somewhat intimidating and overwhelming. If we aren’t careful, statistics can scare us into apathy, thinking there is no way one person can make an impact on a problem so large.

CASA of Northwest Arkansas believes the best way to meet the needs of all foster children is to meet them one child at a time. And, lucky for us, our region is full of citizens who agree and refuse to let the statistics scare them. They realize, behind that big number, there are hundreds of individual children who need just one person to say yes.

In December 2016, 12 new advocates did just that. Last week, an additional 22 advocates joined them. Together, these newly sworn 34 advocates have the potential of serving at least 75 children this year!

Are you willing to join these special individuals? Our greatest need is advocates who are willing to serve Washington or Carroll counties. We’re also are seeking more male and/or bilingual (Spanish) advocates for all counties. Lastly, we have a long list of teenagers needing a CASA advocate/mentor. CASA will host six additional advocate trainings between now and June 30. Contact Arbor (arbor@nwacasa.org) for more information on how to become an advocate or to refer a friend.

In closing, please remember. These children don’t need someone to save the world, they just want someone willing to step into their world.


Granting Christmas Wishes!

The holiday season kicked off in early December with the annual Area 1 Christmas Party graciously sponsored by Fast Lane Entertainment. A host of this event for the past few years, Fast Lane could not provide a more welcoming and festive environment! Foster children and their group homes and families, a total of 408 guests, were treated to pizza, ice cream, bowling, laser tag, rollercoasters and much more. Thanks to Unilever, not only did every child receive a stocking of goodies at the event, but every child also spent a few special moments with Santa and Mrs. Clause. What a treat for these deserving kids!


Fulfilling children’s wish lists is another job that CASA of Northwest Arkansas takes very seriously. With the help of more than 90 individuals and businesses, the community was able to fulfill 393 wish lists for foster children last year. That is simply amazing! Thank you, Northwest Arkansas, for making the needs of others a priority this holiday season.


If you wish you could have helped out, it’s not too late. There are only 306 days until next Christmas. Our Program Director Shelley Hart (shelley@nwacasa.org) will be happy to add your name to our list of elves this year!


A special thanks to the following businesses and organizations for sponsoring Christmas wish lists for 2016: General Mills, Cargill, Tyson, Spin Master Toys, Mitchell Williams, St. Joe’s, U of A Law School, Walmart, RR Solutions, Ozark Orthopedics, Century 21 Lyons & Associates, Clorox, Arvest, Coca-Cola, Bentonville High Interact Club, Modus Studio, Specialized Real Estate, NWA Kappa Alpha Theta Alumnae Chapter, New Heights church, Mattress Firm, Fayetteville Newcomers Club, and Allstate Insurance.

Volunteer Spotlight: Thad Crawford

A little over a year ago, Thad Crawford attended CASA of Northwest Arkansas’s Light of Hope breakfast. The timing couldn’t have been better. Having grown up in a loving Fort Smith family who always had an open door policy for those less fortunate, Thad knew he wanted to do something to help the children in foster care. With four children of their own at home, he and his wife had been considering opening their home as a foster family. But, after learning about CASA, Thad heard a different calling. A few months later, he was sworn in as a CASA advocate. And, we are a stronger program because of it.


Not every rookie wants a case with four children, but a large family didn’t scare this dad of four. In the year since taking his case, Thad has learned a lot – about the foster care system, the undue burden older children face when they must parent their parents and care for their siblings, the impact of drug abuse on families, and how strong children really are amid the most difficult of circumstances. Thad looks up to the oldest child in this case as she shows a maturity well beyond her years. “These kids are amazing people. They have gone through so much. What they have taught me has made me a better dad and husband,” Thad shared.


Balancing a full-time job and a family, you would think Thad sees time as his biggest challenge in serving as an advocate. But, he said that’s what surprised him the most. It doesn’t take a long time to build a relationship with a child in need. It takes compassion and commitment, yes, but this can be accomplished in frequent, short periods of time. What Thad sees as the hardest part of serving is staying objective, not just wanting to fight. He knows he has to put the children’s best interests ahead of his emotions. And, that hasn’t been easy. But, it’s worth it . . . to the kids and to him.

National CASA Appointment for ED Crystal Vickmark

IMG_6362Crystal Vickmark has been appointed by the National Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Association as a member of its newly formed Suburban Leadership Council. Four Leadership Councils (Urban, Suburban, Rural, and Tribal) have been organized by the National CASA Association with members representing their peers from similar size programs.  Each council will advise and provide support to the National CASA Association in its work on behalf of state organizations and local programs, by sharing expertise and providing input and guidance.

“Through strong partnerships and collaborative strategies, we will strengthen the foundation of the CASA/GAL member network, create pathways for sustainable organizational growth, and generate better outcomes for the abused and neglected children we serve,” said Tara Perry, Chief Executive Officer of National CASA Association.

“This engagement with state and local members is rooted in the National CASA Association Strategic Framework,” said Perry. “We are very appreciative and excited to have this level of talent serving on the Suburban Leadership Council, working together to look at the unique needs of abused and neglected children in these communities.”

Crystal is one of 12 CASA directors selected for this prestigious opportunity. We look forward to her using her expertise and 13 years of experience serving Northwest Arkansas to strengthen the entire network of CASA programs across the country. Way to go, Crystal!