COLORADO SPRINGS- April is Child Abuse Prevention Month and CASA of the Pikes Peak Region is looking to change the lives of vulnerable children in the community.
Thomas Schuler knows first-hand how important CASA is after his six kids were taken away from him several years ago.
“We lost a son in 2010 and to try to cope through that, turned to drugs,” he said. “And that was the lifestyle until I lost my kids.”
Schuler said that was the hardest day of his life.
“That was the most pain I’ve ever felt and I buried a kid, but to lose them all because of my inability to be a good father that was a hard one to swallow,” Schuler said.
His kids were assigned a Court Appointed Special Advocate or CASA named Mary.
“When I first got involved with the case, it was a little crazy and Thomas was pretty scary and intimidating for me,” said Mary Moffett who has been a CASA volunteer for 10 years.
The kids were put into foster homes and Moffett got to work earning their trust.
“Different kids you kind of have a different approach with, but the younger ones they don’t really understand the court system or the laws or what’s happening,” said Moffett. “So, I usually just tell them my job is to keep kids safe, that’s what I’m here for and that’s what I’m going to try to do with you, keep you safe and find you a way to get back home if we can do that.”
Overtime Schuler came to trust Moffett too.
“With Mary it wasn’t just about ‘Thomas you’re doing this bad and this bad, and you’ve got this type of history,’ it was always about making sure the kids are ok,” Schuler said. “She established that the very first meeting and she upheld her end of that bargain the entire time.”
Schuler then started holding up his end of the bargain and making changes in order to get his children back
“A lot of therapy, a lot of taking a look at myself and I think the biggest portion of it was I had to stop blaming everything around me for the decisions I was making,” Schuler said. “I had to take a real good look in the mirror at who I was and that really opened my eyes.”
Slowly, the kids were allowed to come home.
“Lillian came home first and that was fun,” Schuler said. “I think we decorated the Christmas tree the night she came home and then the other kids came home slowly after that one.”
Moffett said it was the best outcome they could hope for.
“I have cried so many times with all of these children and with Thomas, true true joy, just to see how happy they all were to be able to go home and to see Thomas get his kids back,” Moffett said. “It was very heartwarming.”
CASA of the Pikes Peak Region has about 400 volunteers like Moffett but it’s not enough, and there are hundreds of families who need a CASA but don’t get one.
“There’s a lot of kids out there that need somebody in their corner that’s going to look out for them through the court system,” said Moffett.
Schuler’s children have been back home for several years now and his life looks much different than when Moffett first met him. He’s happily remarried and works as the General Manager of a heating and air conditioning company.
“We have eight kids combined, it’s fantastic,” he said. “It’s what I dreamed a good life would look like.”
“It’s just nice to see everybody thriving and living like they’re back to a family like you want to see,” said Moffett. “They’re going to school, they have all these school activities, they’re thriving.”
Schuler admits he doesn’t know if his current life would have been possible without Moffett.
“Her demeanor towards the kids helped me drop by walls and let me see like ‘hey, you gotta start looking at you now, because there are people here that genuinely care about your kids,” he said. “What they do for people and what they do for the kids involved in those horrible situations, there’s really not words that can describe it. It’s amazing.”
April is CASA’s Month of Hope Campaign and CASA of the Pikes Peak Region is hoping to raise $200,000 this month and gain 30 new volunteers to support their work in Teller and El Paso Counties.
“At the end of the day when you see a smile on the child’s face and they’re with their parents, that just makes it all worthwhile,” said Moffett.
To learn more visit casappr.org/hope