As a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) volunteer, Mary Lou Hugus works directly with children who have suffered abuse and neglect in Pennsylvania’s Westmoreland County.
In Westmoreland, the number of children placed within the child welfare system has grown each year since 2008 with 396 children in care in 2012. CASA of Westmoreland, a non-profit agency that provides volunteers to act as independent advocates for children who are in the court system due to abuse and neglect, has set the goal to provide advocacy to all of the children in need within the county. It is the only advocacy program of its kind in the community. Since its incorporation in 2006, CASA has increased its services and assisted half of the children in care in Westmoreland in 2012.
Having 40 years of experience as an elementary and middle school teacher, Hugus was a natural fit for CASA of Westmoreland. With her experience as a teacher and a single mother, Hugus has seen the stress presented to and problems facing families and children every day.
When she made the decision to join CASA, she said, “It was a difficult decision to make to retire because I love children.” However, she knew that her new job would be to become a volunteer. Hugus wanted to give back to her community and she has become a great supporter for many programs in Westmoreland. Fortunately, for CASA of Westmoreland, it was of the programs that struck her heart when she retired. She knew that she could continue to make a difference in the lives of children and be a voice for abused and neglected children in Westmoreland.
Since becoming a CASA volunteer in May of 2008, Hugus’s advocacy has had a long-lasting impact on the children she has worked with, and their families. Hugus makes an impact on the community through many important differences she makes every day in the lives of children.
As a CASA volunteer, Hugus meets with the children on her case, collaborates with the caseworker and other professionals involved, works with the child’s parents and foster parents, and reviews school records and other documents. Hugus and the other CASA volunteers research the best interest of the child and the case progress, submit court reports to the court that include recommendations reflecting each child’s needs, speak for the child in the courtroom and at team meetings, and ensure a child’s needs are met while awaiting placement in a safe permanent and nurturing home.
Mary Lou’s work as a CASA volunteer has far-reaching implications for the future; however, Hugus also helps the CASA program in many other ways. Hugus is not only an advocate for the children CASA serves, but also for the CASA program. Whenever there is work to be done for the CASA program, Hugus is the person to go to. She helps with preparing for and organizing fundraisers and events, secures donations for the program, assists with projects in the CASA office, mentors new CASA volunteers, and assists the CASA program with our graduation ceremonies. The CASA staff can call on Hugus for just about anything and know that she will find a way to help.
Hugus’s dedication to Westmoreland extends well beyond the CASA program. Over the years, Hugus has also volunteered with the Cancer Society, the Westmoreland Manor, Habitat for Humanity, the Yough Library, the Palace Theatre, the Westmoreland Cultural Trust, and with Big Brothers Big Sisters as a “lunch buddy.” Throughout all of the relationships and connections Hugus has developed, she displays great interpersonal skills, collaboration, and grace.