Updated: Apr 26, 2022
Each year we highlight innovation and exemplary service at the Annual Awards of Excellence Banquet. Community members nominate exceptional CASA network members who are making life-changing impacts on local children. Then the Awards of Excellence Selection Committee, comprised of Louisiana CASA Board Members, reads through each application and selects the winners.
This year’s awards ceremony took place on Monday, April 11, 2022 and the statewide CASA network came together to celebrate programs and individuals doing incredible work in their communities. We are honored to have so many wonderful people in our CASA network. Their hard work and dedication make our mission of serving Louisiana's abused and neglected children possible. Thank you to everyone who continues to advocate for CASA and the children we serve, we are so grateful for each and every one of you.
Awards given during the banquet included Advocate of the Year, Program Director of the Year, Staff Member of the Year, and more. Learn more about the award recipients below.
Advocate of the Year
Sarah Ghere came to CASA after she had a personal experience being a relative placement for a child who came into care. After meeting with the CASA volunteer on the case and understanding their role, she knew that the need for children to have a voice was crucial. Sarah Ghere was sworn in on November 14, 2018 as a CASA volunteer with CASA of Terrebonne. Since then she has completed two cases and has recently signed up for her third case.
She recently advocated for two teenage boys and stepped up in a big way to help prepare them for aging out of the foster care system. She guided them in career issues as well as independent living, provided support for their future and immediate needs, and was also by their bed side when one had to undergo surgery and the other was hospitalized for health issues. Ghere showed up for their sporting events, coordinated the boys' senior pictures and attended their graduation when no other person attended. Both boys are currently in extended foster and Sarah continues to keep in touch and support them. Sarah has gone above and beyond her duties as a volunteer and continues to excel in advocating for the youth in her community.
"She [Sarah] has a caring heart and a kindness that shines through" - Christine Aucoin, CASA of Terrebonne Executive Director
"Sarah exemplifies high levels of ethics and respect in her role.. Whenever there was an issue Sarah was always just a call away." - Sulma Reyes, CASA of Terrebonne Advocate Supervisor
Director of the Year
In May of 1993, Betz was hired as the Executive Director at Capital Area CASA located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Since that time, the program has grown exponentially; 1,400 volunteers have provided a voice for 3,400 children in East Baton Rouge Parish. Capital Area CASA achieved the milestone of serving 100% of children in care in EBR in 2009 and maintained that level of service up through 2020 when COVID-19 hit.
Under Betz's leadership, Capital Area CASA has been able to amass a reserve fund that is equivalent of over 6 months of operating funding and paid off the mortgage of the program's building. Capital Area CASA's signature fund raising event is "Casas for CASA" - a playhouse raffle fundraiser. The event raised $3,601 its first year in 1995. The event has since grown and now raises over $100,000 annually.
"Though she faced many challenges along the way, Liz has made a phenomenal impact at our agency and positively impacted the lives of abused and neglected children in the local community. Her vision and her leadership make her an ideal recipient for Louisiana CASA's "Director of the Year" award." - Jacqueline Wilson, Capital Area CASA Advocate Supervisor
After 29 years of serving as the Executive Director of Capital Area CASA, Liz announced in 2021 that she will be retiring in August of 2022. The Louisiana CASA Network will miss Liz greatly and are appreciative of her many years of dedication to the CASA mission.
Staff Member of the Year
Kabrina Bland joined CASA of SoLA in the Spring of 2019 as an Advocate Supervisor. She is a native of New Orleans, LA but made Lafayette her home after graduation from University of Louisiana, Lafayette. Kabrina has a B.S. in Child and Family Studies with a minor in Criminal Justice and has her Masters in Nonprofit Administration. Kabrina's passion is empowering and encouraging others and seeing positive growth in people she encounters.
Bland is a major part of the volunteer intake process, whether its conducting volunteer interviews with potential volunteers or teaching a session for both pre-service and in-service training. She also helps with grant reporting and assists her supervisor in many projects and reports. She goes above and beyond to help not just the volunteers but also her fellow staff.
"Kabrina exemplifies outstanding leadership every day and is an asset to our program". - Kade Turner, CASA of SoLA Lead Advocate Supervisor
"I could not think of a more knowledgeable, supportive, and encouraging supervisor than Kabrina. No matter what time of day or evening, no matter what the issues is, and no matter the difficulty, Kabrina has always been there for more. Knowing she "has my back" is critical to my ability to be successful with the children I am responsible for. My success is directly related to Kabrina working with me to provide the best to "my" children." - Mike Hefner, CASA of SoLA volunteer
DCFS Staff Member of the Year
In June of 2021, Felicia Hillhouse unexpectedly passed away following a diagnosis and brief battle with leukemia. Felicia was a 14-year veteran with the Department of Children and Family Services and became an expert resource for all things for children in need of care. She was always willing to assist and was an invaluable resource for attorneys, judges, and CASA volunteers.
"Words will do little justice to explain the impact she made on the live of the children cared for, the co-workers she mentored, the CASA volunteers and attorneys she worked with and the courts where she testified. She truly lived by the standard "in the best interest of the child", and she inspired us all to do the same." - Judge David Merlin Duke, Bogalusa City Court Judge
"Felicia's husband often joke that the children she served got more attention than her own family; it was true, no matter where she was, whether it was home sick, on vacation, the middle of the night, or just the weekend, Felicia was always only a phone call away for anyone who had questions about a child in need. In addition to this, Felicia always made it a point to educate staff on the importance of keeping strong lines of communications with our stakeholder, especially CASA volunteers. Felicia attended most court hearings and was able to help workers understand the positive role CASA played in the life of a child. Felicia gave her life to child welfare." - Leigh Anne Taylor, LCSW, Department of Children and Family Services Area Director
Mrs. Hillhouse is survived by her husband Matt Hillhouse and her children Mark Hillhouse III and Raegan Hillhouse all of Angie, LA.
Board Member of the Year
Orlandar Jack is from Ville Platte, Louisiana and is employed by the Evangeline Parish Government. He has been a board member for CASA of St. Landry - Evangeline, Inc. since January 30, 2017. After CASA of St. Landry expanded to become CASA of St. Landry - Evangeline, he was the first person who joined the board specifically to represent Evangeline Parish. He has been an invaluable asset to the program with development into the Evangeline Parish area and has helped the program become established and accepted within the community. Jack let CASA of St. Landry - Evangeline, Inc. use his church's gym for events and trainings at no charge and assists in recruiting potential volunteers.
Orlandar has stepped up in a big way to serve CASA as Vice President and President Elect, the first African American man to do so. He actively serves on the board's executive committee, the marketing and communication committee, and the board development committee. He is regularly in attendance in all CASA meetings and other CASA related events.
"We at CASA of St. Landry - Evangeline, Inc. are very fortunate to have Mr. Orlandar Jack to serve on our board with so much passion and willingness to find others who are willing to make a difference just like him." - Madelyn Rosette, CASA of St. Landry - Evangeline Inc. Executive Director
"Mr. Jack is a humble "quiet-type" but he's also a public figure who has had an important impact in terms of opening doors for CASA in the communities we serve. We're blessed to have him because he has generously donated his time, talent, and treasure for our CASA kid's sake." - Gloria Nye, CASA of St. Landry - Evangeline Inc. Board President
Judge Chuck West
Judge of the Year
Judge Chuck West of the 13th Judicial District Court of Evangeline Parish has demonstrated leadership in realizing the vision of CASA in the Evangeline Parish Courts A and B by valuing the input the CASA volunteers contribute to the cases they have been sworn to represent. Judge West supported the innovation of CASA in the Evangeline Parish Courts in 2015 as an added stakeholder to ensure that abused children receive a stable and nurturing home. Within the judicial community, he enjoys promoting CASA by swearing in all new CASA volunteers completing the CASA Training. He encourages others in the Evangeline Community to volunteer with CASA as well. In conversation, he stated children's safety and permanent living situation are paramount in all cases.
"I feel a significant contribution made by Judge West to advancing children's issues is his continued support of the CASA program in the community since 2015 when CASA was established in Evangeline Parish. Judge West has exemplified leadership by considering volunteers' concerns and recommendations made in their court reports based on facts gathered from various sources for representation of the CASA children. Also, he has mentioned he stays abreast of current judicial laws to affect solid judgement of cases he resides over. I have known Judge West for over six years. He has exhibited impeccable character and love for the law." - Emma Guillory, CASA of St. Landry - Evangeline, Inc. volunteer
Rep. Dustin Miller
Legislator of the Year
Rep. Miller has put the community and the children of St. Landry Parish first, and the evidence is in his voting trends. He has advocated for many resources and funding to come into the parish. Rep. Miller's support for his local CASA program funding has always been appreciated by CASA of St. Landry - Evangeline, Inc. Due to Rep. Miller's background in nursing, a different perspective is brought to the table of negotiations around regulations. He knows the community because he services the community in his everyday role. Rep. Miller continues to advocate for CASA and the youth of District 40 in his community and at the Capitol.
"He [Rep. Miller] greatly impressed me by his drive and passion for providing resources and his compassion for the people around him. He was and is truly a man who leads and inspires by example. his humble demeanor, coupled with his wonderful sense of humor, made him a joy to work with, even when the going got tough." - Marin McLendon, Chief of Police Opelousas
"He [Rep. Miller] not only assists our CASA program; he gets involved in his community by working with others as well. He has been noticed in our community as a familiar face who believes in serving others." - Shelby Santiago, CASA of St. Landry - Evangeline, Inc. Recruitment & Training Coordinator
Again, thank you to everyone who continues to advocate for CASA and the children we serve, we are so grateful for each and every one of you. If you would like to learn how you can get involved with CASA in your community, please contact us or find a CASA program near you.