A Monroe County woman has been selected by the Tennessee Bar Association Young Lawyers Division as the CASA Volunteer of the Year for 2018-19. Gail Henley, an advocate with CASA Monroe, was honored on Jan. 18 in Nashville during the Tennessee Bar Association Young Lawyer Division Board Dinner.
CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates. These are volunteers who work in the Juvenile Court system with abused and neglected children. They become a “voice” for the children and advocate for their best interest. The volunteers, or “advocates,” also help Judge Dwaine Thomas by providing information about the children’s backgrounds, their school situations, their living arrangements, their health and safety and many other things.
“Gail was in one of our first training sessions,” said CASA Monroe Executive Director Alisa Hobbs. “She took her initial case in 2008 and has been volunteering with us ever since.”
Over the years, Hobbs said Henley’s work with CASA has been extraordinary.
In her first case, Henley followed a family of three children through 10 placements, one of which was a foster home about four hours away. She would make the trip regularly to visit the children. Throughout their nearly four-year ordeal, Henley was the only constant person in the children’s lives as they moved from foster home to foster home and county to county with different people overseeing their care.
In another situation, the mother in one of Henley’s cases was homeless and living in a tent. Henley was able to find her a shelter and even spent the night in the shelter with her so the mother would feel safe.
“Gail exhibits so much compassion, unselfish caring and just plain love to everyone she meets,” said Tina Smith, executive director of the Good Shepherd Center, where Henley distributes food and clothing to the needy. “She tries to help everyone and if she can’t help, she finds someone who can. There’s not another one like her.”
An active member of Madisonville Presbyterian Church, one of Henley’s projects was to co-found a weekly community dinner, which is open to anyone needing a good, hot meal and some company. Henley brought in many of the area churches to partner in this dinner.
“The dinner was born out of her passion to help people,” said the Rev. Deidra Crosby, pastor of Madisonville Presbyterian Church. “I wish the Gospel of Christ lived in all of us as it does in Gail. We could change the world!”
In addition to CASA Monroe, the Good Shepherd Center and Madisonville Presbyterian Church, Henley also works with struggling addicts in Celebrate Recovery, serves on the Board of Homeless Management of Monroe County, and reads to pre-schoolers at the Madisonville Public Library.
“Gail is one of the best CASA advocates we have ever had,” said Hobbs. “She often becomes like a grandmother to the children. They really love her.”