We at K105 are proud to unveil a new feature focusing on people in the Grayson County community who separate themselves with their distinguished and many times unrecognized, tireless work for the benefit of others. The honor of being named the IMPACT PERSON OF THE MONTH will be bestowed upon someone who works for the betterment of others without thought of financial gain or personal renown.
Simply put, going above and beyond any reasonable expectation is what personifies the IMPACT PERSON OF THE MONTH …
… and K105’s first IMPACT PERSON OF THE MONTH is Erica Simpson, Executive Director of CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate for children).
If others are like me, I had no idea what CASA was (or did) until very recently, but I have quickly learned how vital CASA is, not only in the Grayson County area, but around the nation. For every day in this country 1,900 children become victims of abuse or neglect, and every day four children die at the hands of an abuser.
Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) for Children is a network of community-based programs that recruit, train and support citizen-volunteers to advocate for the best interests of abused and neglected children in courtrooms and communities. Volunteer advocates --empowered directly by the courts -- offers judges the critical information they need to ensure that each child’s rights and needs are being attended to after being removed from neglectful homes, and while in foster care.
CASA says that “volunteers stay with displaced children until they are put in loving, permanent homes. For many abused children, a CASA volunteer is the only constant adult presence in their lives.”
Simpson, through her dedication in ensuring each child she comes into contact with is given an opportunity to live his or her life free of abuse and neglect, has clearly impacted Grayson County in an unimaginable manner.
Judge Shan Embry, as part of the 46th Judicial District, and along with Judge Harold Goff, oversees the CASA program in Grayson, Breckinridge and Meade Counties, and is intimately familiar with the incredible work Simpson has done over the last few years
“Well, it really is hard to put into words or measure the work that Erica does for children because it’s not just in one area,” Embry said about Simpson. “She is so focused on trying to make children’s lives better in our community in every way.”
When Simpson took over as CASA’s director just over two years ago, there were 113 children in Grayson County in out of home (foster) care – by contrast, Breckinridge and Meade Counties, with a combined population of roughly 34,000 more residents than Grayson, had a total of 62 children placed in out of home care due to abusive or neglectful domestic situations.
By the end of 2013, Grayson County had 85 children in out of home care, a drop of 24.8 percent from 2011. It is Simpson’s commitment to the welfare of the children of Grayson and surrounding counties which have resulted in the drop of abused children in foster care, with their placement in permanent homes.
“Erica understands the goal of trying to get children out of foster care,” Embry flatly stated. “We’ve gone down from first in the state … the dubious distinction of having the most children per capita in foster care, down to 24th (in the state) in the matter of a couple of years. That’s the result of hard work by everyone involved, especially Erica.”
As Executive Director of CASA, Simpson earns what can best be described as a stipend, rather than a paycheck, but a lack of monetary compensation does not dissuade Simpson from persistently finding suitable, loving homes for abused and neglected children. Simpson has made, in a sense, ensuring the well-being of children her life’s work.
“I can’t praise her enough,” Embry said. “As the director of CASA , she has been instrumental in the turnaround we have seen the last couple of years with the number of children being in care, and (her) training CASA volunteers to help us with cases, and working with the cabinet.
“It’s immeasurable the work that she’s done and the good service that she has provided to our community,” Embry continued.
Citizens of Grayson County would like to think of our county as a great place to live, with good schools, and loving parents. Although that may be the case in many instances, Grayson is also beset with child-related issues due to serious drug and poverty problems.
“You couple the fact that we have a population that is impoverished and we have a significant drug abuse issue, with a lot of sibling groups now in drug-related homes and other problematic situations similar to that … you couple (those together), and we’ve had a lot of kids who have not had the opportunity to have permanent homes,” Embry stated.
Working to find children a proper home can be a thankless and difficult task, but Simpson’s reward is seeing children in a stable, caring environment ripe with opportunities, instead of innocent children growing up in a trauma-filled home, and facing the possibility of an early death.
No one in their right mind wants to see children raised in abusive situations. Good intentions permeate our society; what is lacking are actions by adults which make an impact in altering the course of a child’s life. In Grayson County, Simpson fills that void.
“Putting together the CASA group, and with Erica coming on as the director, we’ve been able figure out ways to either get children back in their homes, get them placed with relatives, or to get them a permanent adoptive home,” Embry said. “And but for Erica and CASA there are several of those groups” of children who would go ignored.
A key part of Simpson’s job is forming relationships with potential adoptive families; discerning good fits for children and adoptive parents. And Simpson is earnest in finding suitable families to place the many times traumatized children who have been removed from unpleasant family atmospheres.
“The relationships Erica has formed with some of those (adoptive) families tells you that she has been involved, and that CASA has been involved, hand-in-hand, with the cabinet and with the courts in trying to help those children gain an (acceptable) permanent home,” Embry said.
It is a tireless work ethic, and a dedication to bettering her community by giving children a fighting chance at the American dream, which elevates Simpson above others who only hope and wish neglected children had a better life. Simpson’s actions have changed countless lives, and without her, Grayson County would be a poorer place to call home.
“Erica is an absolute jewel for Grayson County,” said Misty Thomas, a CASA board member. “Not only is she a young woman, but she is a young woman who is married with small children of her own. But she still finds time to work as a social worker and do a great job in that capacity, but she gives her time to be director of our CASA board and she goes above and beyond for this non-profit organization. She’s truly made a difference, and I wish we had more Erica’s in our area.”