Gunbarrel’s Emily Sewell, this month’s Left Hand Laurel, is a round-the-clock mother, with a full-time career. For the last eight years, she’s also given her time to Voices for Children as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA), transforming the lives of abused and neglected children in Boulder County.
Program Director Dana Walters said, “Emily has quietly worked to help victims of child abuse and neglect recover from trauma. She never seeks recognition and she doesn't require much direction, but she's always been one of our most effective advocates. Other volunteers love working with her and staff depend on her. “
Boulder County’s Voices for Children program was established in 1985 by members of the Junior League of Denver following the launch of a national CASA program. It’s eye-opening to know that more than 1700 Boulder County children experience neglect or abuse annually. It’s legally mandated that every child found to be a victim must be assigned a CASA to advocate for the child’s best interests.
Sewell and her husband Andrew are native Texans and met in junior high. Andrew, a graduate of CU Boulder, went back to Texas to get his degree in dentistry. Emily earned her undergraduate and master’s degrees in anthropology from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN. The couple would often take camping trips to Colorado and in 2001 they decided to make Gunbarrel their home.Their ten-year old daughter, Eleanor, is a fifth-grader at Boulder Country Day.
Sewell is the Chief Financial Officer for Bull Publishing in Boulder, a health and nutrition publishing house primarily focused on chronic disease and self-management.
Her positive experiences working with children on literacy through the Junior League of Dallas fueled Sewell’s desire to continue volunteering. The CASA program was exactly what she wanted - to work with one child or family of children at a time and have a positive impact on their lives.
Having the responsibility of advocating for children can seem daunting at first, but Sewell said VFC is successful because CASAs go through a comprehensive training program and have a solid expert support system.
“It was probably the best training I’ve ever done for life in general,” Sewell said. ”It teaches you how to talk with people and work through issues. “
Neglect is the most predominant issue with the children in the program and many have parents with mental health and/or substance abuse issues. Some children have been abused physically or sexually, and some have parents who have committed crimes. Those problems may also be compounded by poverty.
CASA volunteers get to know their assigned children and then make recommendations about what they need to succeed, whether it’s finding the right living situation, therapist or educational support.
Time together can take many forms – visitations with siblings or parents, going to a playground or sharing a meal. Sewell devotes about 8 to ten hours a month to the children she works with.
Sewell is very matter of fact in explaining why she does this work. It’s because children need to be heard and cared for and, as she says, “Why wouldn’t I help a kid who needs that?”
“With my current case, the child has made huge strides in his own abilities to interact normally in the world and be a thoughtful person,” Sewell said. “It can take a lot of therapy and a lot of work to get a kid on track. That’s when I think, ‘You’re going to be able to go out and have a good life because you’ve learned these skills.’”
Between cases, Sewell is a peer coordinator overseeing four or five other CASAs, interfacing with her fellow volunteers and reviewing their case logs.
“CASA volunteers like Emily help build a stronger community in Boulder County by advocating for the needs of our most vulnerable children,” Walters said. “The work they do helps young people who have been abandoned by their parents to build healthy and productive lives and prevent bad outcomes like youth homelessness, truancy, unemployment, and addiction. Emily is a leader in this work and we are so pleased to be able to honor her work as a Court Appointed Special Advocate.”
To learn more about Voices for Children and becoming a CASA, visit: www.vfccasa.org. The next volunteer training sessions begin in October. Voices for Children’s annual Night of Hope fundraising gala is Thursday, Sept. 5, at Oskar Blues Brewery, Longmont.