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National CASA/GAL announces 2020 Awards of Excellence winners

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October 21, 2020

National CASA/GAL announces 2020 Awards of Excellence winners

ATLANTA, Georgia – The National Court Appointed Special Advocate/Guardian ad Litem (CASA/GAL) Association for Children announced eight 2020 Awards of Excellence winners at its virtual conference today. These awards honor volunteers, staff, judges and others who have gone above and beyond in their efforts to provide best-interest advocacy for children who have experienced abuse or neglect.

The CASA/GAL model started more than 40 years ago, and in those decades, hundreds of thousands of committed volunteers, staff members, judges and others have made a lifelong difference to individual children. This year’s winners all demonstrate a commitment to the children of their communities and to the mission of National CASA/GAL.


The G.F. Bettineski Child Advocate of the Year Award recognizes a CASA/GAL volunteer who has made significant contributions to promoting the best interests of children who have experienced abuse or neglect, and who also supports the CASA/GAL program in their community.

This year’s winners are Ellen and Billy Alexander, a husband and wife team who volunteer for CASA of Harrison County in Gulfport, Mississippi. They have distinguished themselves in part because of their tenacity and care in advocating for the children they are appointed to serve. The Alexanders ensure that these children know that a caring adult – or two – is there to support them.



The Kappa Alpha Theta Program Director of the Year Award, named for one of National CASA/GAL’s long-time partners, was created to recognize the exceptional work program directors do every day. The recipient of this award is someone who has taken significant actions to establish or expand a CASA/GAL program.

Crystal Vickmark, executive director of CASA of Northwest Arkansas is this year’s recipient. She joined the staff of the program nearly 18 years ago, and has led the organization in expanding services and improving outcomes for more children and youth. Through her leadership, the organization has achieved the goal of serving every child in their community who needs a volunteer advocate.



The National CASA/GAL Association Board Member of the Year Award was created to honor an individual who exemplifies outstanding leadership and commitment to their CASA or GAL program through their role as a member of a board of directors or advisory council.

The Board Member of the Year is Harriet Zaretsky, a member of the board of CASA of Los Angeles. Zaretsky is both a long-standing board member and formerly served as a CASA volunteer. She has worked on new fundraising efforts, served as a spokesperson and advocate of the program, and has led their strategic planning. Zaretsky also established a scholarship fund in memory of her son Dillon, and this fund gives children and youth access to the academic, medical or extra-curricular items they need to be successful.



The Honorable David W. Soukup Judge of the Year Award, named for the founder of the CASA model, honors the outstanding contributions of a judge who has advanced the best interests of children through support of the CASA/GAL model.

Judge Susan B. Carbon of the 9th Circuit Court Family Division in Manchester, New Hampshire, has been named judge of the year. Judge Carbon, who has also been previously named New Hampshire’s Judge of the Year, has served on the bench since 1990. She readily gives her time to CASA volunteer training and frequently shares her insights on the value of CASA volunteers in her courtroom. Judge Carbon also has an impressive record of service to the profession. In 2010, she was appointed by President Barack Obama as director of the Office of Violence Against Women at the U.S. Department of Justice. She has served on many domestic violence and child protection initiatives at the state and national level. Judge Carbon is also a past president of both the New Hampshire Bar Association and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ).



The State Director of the Year Award honors a state director who has taken action to establish or develop the state network and has demonstrated commitment to applying the National CASA/GAL mission, vision and strategic framework at a state level.

Alan Abramowitz of the State of Florida Guardian ad Litem Program has been named the State Director of the Year. Abramowitz has worked diligently with the state legislature year after year to advance initiatives to improve the experiences of children and youth in care. He uses his time with legislators not only to advocate for children’s needs, but to educate legislators and policy makers on the value of GAL volunteers who serve the best interests of children. Abramowitz’s achievements will ensure long-lasting improvements in child welfare and outcomes for children.



The Diversity and Inclusion Award recognizes excellence in promoting the values of inclusiveness and diversity among volunteers, board members and staff, ultimately enhancing the organization’s quality of service to children.

This year’s winner, Child Advocates, Inc., the CASA program in Indianapolis, Indiana, has been engaged in this critical work for more than 10 years. The program has focused on making diversity, equity and inclusion part of the core of their culture and their strategic plan. The long-term commitment of Child Advocates, Inc. to these important issues is shaping not only its CASA/GAL program, but has made a critical impact on the child welfare system in Indianapolis.



The Promising Practices Spotlight Award highlights a successful, replicable practice that exemplifies creativity in a program’s pursuit to provide that quality advocacy.

This year, CASA of New York City was recognized for its Youth Leadership Council program. The Youth Leadership Council is an innovative project that engages and empowers youth who have experienced foster care to use their voices to advocate for improvements in child welfare services. These youth are involved in the CASA program’s training, strategic planning and program practices, providing unique insights that better position the program to support youth in foster care.



The prestigious Children’s Champion Award is for an individual or organization who has made a significant contribution at the national level to improving the lives of children who have experienced abuse or neglect. It recognizes a partnership that is critical to the growth and advancement of our service to America’s most vulnerable children.

The winner of this award is The Honorable Ernestine S. Gray, judge in the Orleans Parish Juvenile Court, Section A, in New Orleans, Louisiana. Throughout her legal and judicial career, Judge Gray has been a strong advocate for improving the administration of justice for children and families in need, and has spent decades working tirelessly to improve the court and child welfare systems that are there to serve them.

Judge Gray served as a member of the National CASA Association Board of Trustees from 2001-2008, and as board president from 2008-2010. She is currently the Co-Chair of the National CASA/GAL Association’s Judicial Leadership Council. Judge Gray served as a member of the National CASA/GAL Standards Committee for nearly 10 years and was chair of the Committee during her tenure. As a result of Judge Gray’s leadership, she has made an exceedingly positive impact at the national level that has benefited children and families served by the CASA/GAL network. Judge Gray is an advocate and a voice for the National CASA/GAL Association, and her efforts have helped to ensure a court system that is fair, just, and equitable.