CASA of Montana honored the judge, director and volunteer CASA Award winners for 2006 during a ceremony in April. Winners, from left, Judge of the Year, Ted Mizner of Deer Lodge, Director of the Year, Judith Pylar of CASA CAN in Great Falls, Volunteer of the Year, Joe Thompson and Supreme Court Justice Jim Rice. Justice Rice presented awards to CASA winners at the Celebration of Children breakfast in Helena April 27th.
CASA/GAL Programs Celebrate State Winners
CASA staff and volunteers from around the state celebrated awards to the Judge, Volunteer, and Director of the Year at a special awards breakfast on April 27, 2006.
Supreme Court Justice Jim Rice recognized Judge Ted L. Mizner for his work on behalf of CASA and GALs in the third judicial district of Deer Lodge, Powell and Granite counties. From a Guardian ad Litem's viewpoint, Judge Mizner is the "champion for children" in that community. The Anaconda GAL Program was in its infancy when Judge Ted Mizner took the bench in 1987. His genuine concerns for children are well known and practiced on the bench and behind the scenes, Anaconda Program director Dave Fenchak said in his nomination.
Fenchak applauded Judge Mizner's efforts to encourage the GAL Program to expand to all three counties in the Third Judicial District. He is retiring after almost 20 years on the bench. The Anaconda GAL program joined the CASA network in 2004 after 20 years of operation as a GAL organization.
Judges appoint Court Appointed Special Advocate volunteers as Guardians ad Litem who advocate for the best interest of the child. These volunteers serve as the eyes and ears of the court to investigate and recommend so the judge can make the right decision for a child on home placement.
Other state winners honored in Helena included Judith Pylar, Executive Director of CASA CAN in Great Falls, and Joe Thompson, a volunteer for the Anaconda GAL program.
Judy walked in the door at CASA CAN in 2003 when the program had been without an executive director for year. She took the program from 25 volunteers in 2003 to about 81 this year and another 10 in a training class. She now oversees the largest program in the state. She added innovative new fundraisers such as the CANstruction event in January and helped organize the Fiesta de Ninos May 4 in Great Falls. She is involved in the Meth Task Force and the newly established Youth Drug Court in Great Falls, and serves on the state board of the CASA of Montana. The state office recently separated from the state of Montana in January and Judy has been active at the state level in assisting the new nonprofit.
County Commission Chairman Peggy Beltrone calls Judy the "glue" that brings together a conscientious board of directors, vibrant staff and dedicated volunteers.
Judy administers one of 16 local non-profit programs in Montana, working with volunteers to provide training, mentoring and assistance.
Volunteer of the Year Joe Thompson was honored for his 17 years of work with more than 50 children as a guardian ad litem. Other nominees included Cheryl Taylor of Helena and Marcia Tharp of Kalispell. Joe has advocated for more than 50 children in 17 years as a Guardian ad Litem. His reports to the court are "meticulously documented and researched. He currently represents 17 children with open court cases in family court within the Third Judicial District. He prefers to keep a low profile in the community, but his presence "lights up" a room, director Dave Fenchak wrote.
Volunteers are the heart of the CASA program and nearly 360 men and women provided more than 16,000 volunteer hours in 2005.
Winners were honored at the Governor's Breakfast during the state Prevent Abuse and Neglect Conference in Helena in April.