Amy Finnegan
Amy Finnegan

For many first-time advocates, a new case can seem overwhelming.   There are home visits to schedule, court dates to attend and months of research to pore over that culminate in a potentially life-changing recommendation for a young child.

Lori Dawson
Lori Dawson

However, Williamson County CASA (WCCASA) believes it’s a process new advocates shouldn’t have to go through alone. WCCASA Advocate Supervisor Audrey Freshwater works with old and new volunteers through the organization’s mentoring program, providing new advocates the support system they need during their first cases and beyond.

After new member training, Audrey carefully pairs new volunteers with a mentor to help guide them through their first case. They accompany them on house visits, court hearings and provide support and advice throughout the process.

Amy Finnegan first learned about CASA as an Kappa Alpha Theta at Drake University, and became involved with the nonprofit as a part of the sorority’s national philanthropy. After moving to Nashville from Chicago 10 years ago, Amy busied herself with PTA, volunteering with the local Red Cross and becoming an advisor for the Kappa Alpha Theta chapter at Vanderbilt University.

When her youngest child recently left for college, Amy began considering ways to focus her energy elsewhere. CASA was one of the first things that crossed her mind.

“I knew I wanted to work with kids,” says Amy. “Mine had graduated and I wanted to continue to make a difference in a young person’s life. I also really liked the idea of becoming involved in the investigation process. I volunteer for the Red Cross and although I love it, it’s a lot of deskwork. With CASA, I’m not looking at a computer screen all day. I’m in the field interacting with the people I’m helping one-on-one.

Amy began volunteering with WCCASA in February. After training, she was immediately paired up with her mentor, Lori Dawson, and given her first case.

Lori has been involved with CASA since 1997, back when she was living in Kansas City. After she moved to Nashville she took time off to raise her children, and then began volunteering again three years ago once her children began attending school.

Like most mentor-mentee relationships, Lori and Amy quickly became friends, and supported each other throughout their first case.

Lori says when you’re given a case, the first thing you do is sit down and go over the situation, the key players and the goal. It’s a lot of one-on-one time with someone in an emotional situation, but Lori says she and Amy mesh well.

Amy agrees, and says it’s comforting to have someone who’s handled multiple cases to act as a teacher.

“I was a little intimidated about home visits—that I was going to forget to ask something or I was going to miss something,” explains Amy. “After the first one, we got in the car and Lori immediately began asking me questions like, ‘Did you pick up on this?’ I maybe had noticed it, but it wasn’t something that stuck out to me. She knew it was noteworthy.”

The two recently closed their first case together in an unusually quick three weeks, and both contributed to its successful conclusion.

“She’s really intuitive,” says Lori about Amy. “I was in my early 20’s on my first case so I didn’t have a lot of life experience. She has kids—teenagers—and our case was a teen so she was able to relate a lot more. When you have kids, you have a natural inclination to protect kids.”

After three months working with WCCASA and completing her first case, Amy has developed a passion for the nonprofit, and invites others to join the cause.

“I would encourage people to try out—it’s exciting, fulfilling and a great way to spend your time,” says Amy.

And Lori agrees.

“I would definitely recommend that people at least come to an informational meeting. A lot of people think it’s going to be such a huge time commitment—and at times it can be—but in the end it’s very doable. I just want to encourage anyone that is interested in CASA to come out and help us in our efforts to make a difference in the lives of children in Williamson County.”