Donald Sewell has been a certified CASA Advocate for CASA of the 31st Judicial District for nearly 10 years. Don came to CASA at age of 75 as a volunteer because he needed a new ‘hobby’, a new outlook because he had a lot of time on his hands in retirement and wanted to better the lives of abused and neglected children. Don was the 5th advocate at CASA of the 31st. Now 85 years old, he will retire from CASA at the end of 2017.
Don was not kidding when he said he had a lot of time to spare and wanted to help when he joined CASA. Don has served 36 CASA children and he gave each of them a generous helping of his time, efforts and his recommendations to better the child’s situation. He never gave up. Many times the judges in District 31 stated that Don knew his cases more than anyone else in the system and they relied on that information for the children. A large number of Don’s court report recommendations were adopted, verbatim, as the orders of the Court.
Knowing Don’s great skill and commitment level, the judges often asked for him to be appointed to their most difficult cases. Don’s special brand of advocacy was needed in one case with several special needs children who had been in the system for over 2 years with little progress. Don started by investigating each and every DCF, medical, mental health, school, and court record, then interviewed over 25 people that had worked with the family. With this information, he created an extensive timeline of the family’s life since the oldest teenager had been born. The timeline was crucial to helping the judge and workers understand the family dynamic and entire history of the children’s lives. In another case, Don served a child suffering from serious birth defects and brain damage. Again, Don made a thorough investigation, this time visiting medical and residential facilities to find the right services for the special needs child. He was relentless in attending or following through on every medical appointment, once sitting in the hospital for 3 days as the child underwent a life-changing operation. Don was one of the first persons the child asked for following surgery.
Don has worked in all 4 counties that CASA 31 serves, often driving over 100 miles just to attend court or have a visit. Case outcomes ran the range of permanency goals – reintegration, custodianship, adoption, guardianship, aging out and sadly, transferring to JJA custody. None of the children on his case load ever came back into custody again. That says a lot about Don’s effect on children’s lives. In the 10 years that Don has served with CASA 31, he has devoted 5,500 hours and driven over 60,000 miles to CASA in advocating for “his” kids, keeping his skills sharp through additional learning opportunities, fundraising, community outreach, mentoring, training new volunteers and other CASA colleagues, and substituting for staff members and other advocates. He has been invaluable in community outreach and training activities, helping with community events, fundraisers, and presenting workshops statewide and nationally. In addition he lets the program use his shiny bright red Ford Mustang at events and parades and it became a well-known CASA symbol in the area.
Don has lived and breathed CASA and our mission to serve children for the last 10 years. CASA of the 31st will miss our retiree massively!