Each year approximately 250 children are placed into the turbulent world of foster care in Hancock County.
Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) for children of Hancock County is often the voice for those children. CASA GAL (Guardian at Law), a United Way partner agency, recruits and trains volunteers as guardians at law to represent children in the Juvenile Court System. The Court processes cases for children whose primary caregivers cannot care for them. Many of the children are victims of sexual abuse, physical abuse or neglect.
The woman at the helm of this important organization for the past three years is Findlay native Leah Cole.
Cole graduated from Miami University and began working with people with disabilities. She quickly realized that she is not, as she puts it, “much of a social worker.” So, Cole redirected her career path toward investigative services. She loves working with her volunteer advocates, who are assigned to cases through CASA with the primary goal of finding a permanent, stable situation for each child as quickly as possible. Social workers, attorneys, and therapists carry heavy caseloads.
CASA volunteers, on the other hand, focus solely on the “best interests” of the child in the Court case. “There is no greater feeling than seeing ‘average’ people do astounding things for children in our community,” Cole says. Volunteers listen, mentor and guide children and teens and frequently become the most important person in a child’s life. “Sometimes we give these kids their first experience of feeling cared for. It is so rewarding knowing you can give a brighter future to a child,” Cole says.
She manages motherhood, juggling her personal time with her own children with the caseload of children she and her staff represent. Cole is constantly in search of ordinary people willing to donate ten to 15 hours a month, who will be trained by the agency and then assist abused and neglected children. “I always tell people that they can make an incredible difference in this world, one child at a time.”
Who: Leah Cole
Kids: A daughter, 16 and son, 19,a BGSU student.
hero: Condoleezza Rice
favorite restaurant: Asian Grill
Hobbies: Nothing “blows off steam” like a little target practice. She also loves to read “just about anything.”
first job: “I was hired by a local farmer when I was 11 years old to pick strawberries at the crack of dawn!”
favorite getaways: Disney World, white water rafting, and zip lining in West Virginia.