Child advocacy group recognizes local volunteers

GREENFIELD —The Court- Appointed Special Advocates unit of East Central Indiana is celebrating the work of two Greenfield residents who representatives say provide unmatched services to children in Hancock County.

CASA, which relies on volunteers to serve as a child’s voice in any court case involving a child’s welfare, hands out its top honors — the Volunteer of the Year and Judge Jack L. Brinkman Award — at a recognition ceremony each September. For 2015, those accolades will go to Michael Pedarré, a CASA volunteer, and Nickie Scott, the director of Bentley’s Buddies and Friends, a local children’s literacy organization.

CASA came to Hancock County in 2004, and serves hundreds of the county’s children each year. A CASA volunteer’s job is to identify what is best for a child when a case involving them winds up in court, said Candice Hammond, Hancock County volunteer coordinator.

CASA volunteer visit families, talk with the children and make recommendations to judges about what is in the child’s best interest.

In naming Pedarré as Hancock County’s CASA Volunteer of the Year, Hammond said she and fellow coordinator Cheryl Seelig looked to the dedication and compassion he shows the children he’s charged with representing.

“In everything we ask a volunteer to do, Mike is exemplary,” Hammond said. “Mike’s got it all.”

Pedarré worked in construction and contracting for most of his life, and when he retired, he decided he wanted to spend his time helping others.

“That’s what we were put on earth to do,” he said. “Anyone taking (this job) on is doing it because they want to help.”

Pedarré learned about CASA at a volunteer fair in 2013. He said he saw it as a chance to finally dedicate his time to mentoring children and helping them develop. He takes special care when encouraging his CASA charges to open up to him and is careful not to fixate on the situation that led to the child being brought into the program.

“I try to do as in-depth a job as I can,” he said, adding he was humbled to hear about the award. “I have always felt that if I’m going to do something, I better do it as best I can.”

With the Judge Jack L. Brinkman Award, Scott is being recognized as a Hancock County community member working to make a difference in the lives of children in the community.

By creating the reading program, Bentley’s Buddies and Friends, which encourages youngsters to read books aloud to their pets, Scott embodies the meaning of community service, said Annette Craycraft, East Central Indiana CASA executive director.

The program is named for Bentley, Scott’s Great Pyrenees that travels with her to local schools and child-friendly events to serve as a reading buddy for young learners.

Many of the children CASA serves have a hard time developing trust, and programs like Scott’s go a long way to help a child develop confidence again, Craycraft said.

Scott said she sees it, too.

When visiting schools and children’s groups with Bentley, she often encounters a little boy or girl having a bad day. While the volunteers — Scott oversees a network of pet owners who participate — are never told about the child’s home or family situation, Scott has seen a child’s mood change just by spending at little time with a four-legged friend.

Scott was surprised to find out she’d been nominated for the Brinkman award and joked it was really her pets who deserve the recognition.

“The dogs are the ones that do all the work,” she said with a laugh.

The Brinkman award is named for the Madison County judge who brought the CASA program to East Central Indiana in 1987; it expanded to include Hancock County in 2004.

Past local recipients of the Judge Jack L. Brinkman Award include Juvenile Probation Officer Josh Sipes, Eden Elementary School social worker Terry Miller and Candace Sexton, unit director for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hancock County.

Pedarré and Scott will be honored at the Champions for Children 2015 celebration Sept. 28 in Anderson.

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Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or cvanoverberghe@greenfieldreporter.com.