Denise Hallett was reading the newspaper when she saw an article that spoke to her heart.
The Court Appointed Special Advocate/Guardian ad Litem program was seeking volunteers to serve as advocates for children in Stark County who have been neglected, abused or deprived of parental support.
“I’ve always had a soft spot for kids,” said Hallett, who previously volunteered with Big Brothers Big Sisters of America and the Animal Protective League. “I would get upset about the articles in the newspaper about child abuse, and I always thought I wanted to do something to help. This was an opportunity to do something.”
Hallett, who grew up in Canton Township and now lives in Massillon, said her most memorable case involved a mother who struggled to cope following a tragedy in her family. She lost her children, but dutifully followed the case plan’s requirements and eventually was reunited with her family.
“I admire that woman,” Hallett said. “She worked very hard.”
Hallett said she saw the family at a store in Massillon years after the case had closed and the children gave her a hug.
“It is nice to know we made a difference,” said Hallett, who still receives holiday cards from some of the children and families she’s helped.
After nearly 12 years of volunteering, Hallett joined the CASA/GAL program as an employee last year. The former administrative assistant for Quickdraft is now the development coordinator for the CASA/GAL program for Stark and Carroll counties, which operates under the auspices of the Stark County Family Court.
As part of her new role, Hallett is seeking more volunteers. The program now has 55 volunteers and would love 100 or more, she said.
The volunteers serve as advocates for children who most often have been removed from their parent’s home and are in the temporary custody of the Department of Job and Family Services. The advocates meet with the child at least once a month until the case is resolved, which typically takes about a year or two.
“One of the great things about our guardians is that they are one of the consistent adults for the child going through this,” she said. “It’s a confusing time for them.”
The advocates also interview the child’s parents, caseworkers, school officials and service providers to get a clear picture of what is in the best interest for the child. They then present a written report to the family court that could include recommendations such as whether the child should remain in his or her current foster home, whether the child should receive additional therapy or services or whether the parents might need services or an evaluation. The volunteers do not give
Last year, the program helped 291 children.
To become an advocate, volunteers must be at least 21 years old, pass a criminal background check and complete 30 hours of pre-service training followed by 12 hours of training per year. Training is held in the fall and spring. Hallett said volunteers can choose their case, such as whether they want a case close to home or want to work with children of a particular age.
Outside of her job, Hallett can be found participating in her church, Christ Lutheran Church in Massillon, camping with her husband of 25 years, Scott, or spending time with her son, Joe, now 24.
“We’re very family oriented,” she said. “We like to be together and eat, drink and laugh.”
Hallett’s local favorites:
Most unique or unusual product made in Stark County:
Gold’n Krisp potato chips. “We have taken bags to our family in Columbus and friends when they lived in Indiana.”
Favorite thing to do:
“I love camping with my family. Cutty’s Sunset Camping Resort, Clay’s Park Resort and Clearwater Park (Jellystone Park) are some of our favorites.”
Local CEO or business owner you admire:
Jill McCauley from The Invisible Chef. “She is so dedicated to making her business very successful and is a great mom and wife. The baking mixes are to die for. Check out their website!”
Favorite spot to grab a drink:
“I’m fond of That Pop Up Bar. I like to see how they get creative with their current theme.”
Favorite place to shop:
“I’m a bargain shopper, and I love to browse at P.S. Cook’s in Massillon in the Home Depot Plaza. They have great stuff for your house, and I’ve found stuff for the camper, too.”
Favorite lunch spot:
“I work in downtown Canton, and Hazel & Rye has to be my favorite. Great sandwiches and soups. You can eat healthy or not, your choice.”
Favorite coffee shop:
“I love Tremont Coffee in Massillon. They are friendly, and the coffee is great. They did a wonderful rehab of an older building.”
“I like the old theaters, Canton Palace Theatre and Massillon’s Lions Lincoln Theater.”
Favorite volunteer opportunity:
“The CASA/GAL program! I was a volunteer for 11 years and now work for the program. It’s amazing and inspiring the work that the volunteers do for the kids.”
Favorite place to shop for gifts:
“I recently discovered the Just Imagine Gift Gallery. I love that place. Make sure you have time to look around.”
“Anything held in downtown Canton or Massillon. First Friday, Vintage Canton, Massillon Fun Fest and the Father’s Day Car Show.”
Favorite date night:
“In warm weather, it’s Pizza Oven pizza and wine on our patio.”