For Wendi Everingham, making a life-changing difference in the lives of children has been most rewarding in her role at CASA of Harrison, Marion and Panola Counties.
“We train qualified volunteers to work as the eyes and ears of the court, to serve in the best interest of the children that we serve in three counties,” said Everingham.
For a decade, she’s served the nonprofit child advocacy organization, starting as business manager in September 2009 to her now new role as executive director, in which she was appointed this past October, succeeding long-time director Marcy Minor.
“Wendi is doing a fantastic job,” Board President Vivian Lewis said of Everingham. “She has stepped into this executive director role and made a big difference the way the office is run.”
Everingham said she’s honored to be named the new executive director.
“It’s such a worthwhile organization, and we’re able to help positively shape the lives of the children,” she said.
CASA, which stands for Court Appointed Special Advocate, acts as the eyes and ears of the court by advocating in the best interest of children who are in the custody of Child Protective Services due to abuse or neglect.
Everingham joined the CASA staff in September 2009, two years after the chapter launched.
“We were founded by Marcy Minor in 2007,” said Everingham. “She founded our chapter and I helped Marcy, in 2012, add the other counties of Marion and Panola County, under her direction.”
The CASA office was originally housed in an incubator on the downtown square in Marshall.
“We shared probably about a 10x10 room, and we just kind of built it from the ground up,” Everingham recalled.
The CASA organization has worked vigorously throughout the years, making an impact in the lives of abused and neglected children, providing emotional, financial and moral support.
“We’ve hosted several fundraisers, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years,” Everingham shared.
“We have served — since I’ve been here — 1,057 children and we have managed 667 cases,” she added. “It’s a pretty amazing feat when you look at it.”
Everingham’s new appointment as executive director came just right before the challenging times of COVID-19. Lewis noted she’s done a great job navigating through the crisis.
“With this COVID -19 it’s been hard (setting) these Zoom meetings,” said Lewis. “But, she’s done a very good job keeping us up-to-date on all the organization, from Texas CASA... keeping us abreast of all that has gone on.”
Everingham said she has a great group of dedicated volunteers, who have also made sure that the needs of their young clients and foster families continue to be met during the global pandemic.
“I think last quarter we served like 122 children; and, of course, we’re kind of tackling the new circumstances with the COVID-19 and the visits,” she said. “We’ve had some children that we’ve delivered meals to and one volunteer that’s delivering puzzles.”
“Now more than ever it’s just very important that we’re try to keep eyes and ears on those children,” she said, expounding that the pandemic has caused not only boredom for children, but left a financial strain and emotional stress on families.
“Families are stressed now more than ever,” said Everingham. “Our volunteers have tried very hard and have been successful in getting with those children and families, trying to assist in any way that we can.”
Everingham said the local CASA is excited about the new group of volunteers that will be joining them soon.
“We have nine new volunteers that are training right now,” she said.
The group will be sworn in as new advocates on June 30 in the Harrison County courtroom of 71st Judicial District Judge Brad Morin.
One of Everingham’s goals as the new executive director is to expand CASA’s brand by making an impact in the lives of children that are permanently placed in foster care.
“We do temporary managing conservative cases, but I’m hoping at some point we can expand our role to stay in the lives of children,” she said.