CASA starts 2013 with new director

Fremont native Tracie Cress recently was named executive director for Court Appointed Special Advocates of Seneca, Sandusky, and Wyandot Counties.

Married with two daughters, Cress is a graduate of Fremont Ross High School.

“I have an associate’s (degree) from Terra in business. I majored in office administration. I did that while I was working at Applebee’s. … that was in 2009. That was a pretty busy time in my life,” Cress said.

The new director started as a CASA volunteer in 2003. During a custody case involving a family member, Cress said she was impressed with the attorney ad litem assigned to the case.

“Six months after the court process was over with, I opened the newspaper and there was an article that said ‘Do you want to be a guardian ad litem?’… so I called and went through training and here I am,” Cress said.

Having worked on about two dozen cases as a volunteer, Cress said her experience was valuable when she became program director for Sandusky County in 2008. In that position, she managed volunteers and served as an alternate guardian ad litem to fill in on some cases. She still is involved in a few cases there.

“I was so fortunate that I got a job getting paid doing what I volunteered to do before. It was wonderful,” Cress said.

In addition, she had interned in that office as part of her coursework. Going in, she was already familiar with the responsibilities of the program coordinator. She was hesitant to give up the position.

“It was a tough decision because I’ve been so happy with my job but I’m positive I will grow to love this one as much as I did there,” Cress said.

The director’s job is more complicated with grant applications to file and funding to secure for training. For the past five years, local attorney Becky Herner headed CASA-SSW. Herner still is working as an attorney on two CASA cases and plans to finish them.

A Seneca County resident, Herner is available to consult with Cress on legal questions that may occur. When volunteers call with questions, Cress can remember her own experiences and give useful advice and encouragement.

Cress was sworn in as CASA’s director Friday. She still is getting to know the Seneca County volunteers and compiling statistics from 2012. Until everything is re-organized, she is carrying “a big bag” and working out of two offices. Cress said everyone has tried to make her transition as smooth as possible.

“Jane (Flechnter, office manager) has been so helpful. She’s been with the program from day one. She knows so much. She’s been a huge benefit to me,” Cress said, “and I’ve had great support from the board.”

CASA is a non-profit organization that provides trained adult volunteers to advocate for the best interest of children in court cases of abuse and neglect. CASA volunteers research the background of the families involved and present that information to the court. Volunteers always are needed, and another training session is being planned for spring.

In addition, CASA is making plans for its annual Sandusky County Stars Dancing for CASA April 13 at The Heights in Fremont.

Call (419) 448-1442 to inquire about volunteering and to learn more about the program.