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Best Of 2011: Nonprofit Organization

It is the best of jobs and the worst of jobs.

And yet, Trudy Strewler Hodges — leader of this branch of the national Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) since its founding 22 years ago — is drawn to it completely.

"I believe that our mission is one that extends past any political, religious and any kind of barriers," says the executive director. "Everyone cares about children."

In CASA's main program, volunteers appointed by judges serve abused and neglected children. The volunteers spend time with the kids and their families, and ultimately recommend to the court what is best for a child. That might be classes that help parents improve their behavior, or it could be sending a child to live with a relative or adoptive family.

CASA also has several other programs that counsel parents going through divorce; protect children in especially messy break-ups; and provide needed items to foster children.

In all, CASA served about 1,000 kids in its past fiscal year, which ended June 30. That number reflects a 22 percent increase in kids served in the main court program.

Sadly, child abuse and domestic violence continue to be top problems in El Paso County. But Hodges says CASA has been keeping up with the challenge thanks to donors contributing more year-to-year. That generosity is not being wasted. Recently, the CASA board put together a detailed balance score card, outlining major goals for the organization's $1.6 million budget and steps to get there. Reviews for Hodges and other managers are based on CASA's success meeting those goals.

"I think that causes donors to feel more like they want to reach out even when things are tighter in the economy," Hodges says.

Other measures of success are harder to count. Kids helped by CASA grow up, go to college, and have careers and children of their own. They're healthy and happy, and most of all, safe.

"We see things like [that] all the time," Hodges says. "And I think that's really why I'm still here." — J. Adrian Stanley

IndyPick • Best Of 2010: Local Nonprofit Leader, Trudy Strewler Hodges

Some charitable nonprofits live off their identity, national as well as local. Others rise or fall more on the quality and stability of their leadership. In the case of CASA (Court-Appointed Special Advocates) of the Pikes Peak Region, there's a unique dynamic: a singular driving force. Director Trudy Strewler Hodges was the local CASA chapter's first employee, starting in 1989, and in her 21 years, has turned this agency into a national CASA role model. Locally, CASA has worked to improve the lives of 6,000 children in El Paso and Teller counties, with an impressive stable of volunteers who are the lifeblood, working directly with kids and their families. But the most amazing aspect of Hodges' impact has been fundraising. Just this past spring, CASA's annual Light of Hope breakfast and lunch events drew 1,800 inspired attendees, who pledged nearly $360,000 (an average of $200 per person) to help CASA serve hundreds more neglected and/or abused kids. That's worth recognition, starting at the top. — Ralph Routon

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