McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

February 12, 2014

Children's advocacy group closes doors

By Jeanne LeFlore
Staff Writer

McALESTER — A McAlester program that helped abused and neglected children get through the court system has closed its doors after more than 15 years in the area.

The board for the nonprofit Court Appointed Special Advocates of Southeast Oklahoma voted Tuesday night to dissolve the organization and sell the property it owns.

The McAlester-based CASA program organized volunteers in Pittsburg and McIntosh counties to be appointed by judges to watch over and advocate for abused and neglected children who are often lost in the court system, according to its website.

Board member Mike Parks said the board had to close its doors because of a lack of funding.

“We are voting to dissolve CASA not because we want to dissolve it but I don’t see how we can run the program without money or an executive director,” Parks said.

The McAlester CASA had faced ongoing issues for the last four years, according to former executive director and longtime CASA volunteer Verne Courtright.

Courtright took over the position in April after previous director Aaron Williams was dismissed from the program in March.

On Wednesday, Courtright spoke with the News-Capital and said funding for the program ceased when he took over.

“The funding ceased the month after I started as director and we were on our own,” Courtright said. “I did all I could, but the damage was done.”

Williams attended Tuesday’s meeting with his wife and daughter.

In a text message after the meeting, Williams said he filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission after he was dismissed from the program. He said the complaint was filed  when a former employee allegedly made false statements about him.

“I came to the meeting with my family tonight so they can see what they done ... based on false allegations about me,” Williams said.

“I feel bad for the abused and neglected children of Pittsburg and McIntosh counties,” he said in the text message.

“But this program got what it deserved.”

After the meeting, long-time CASA volunteer Linda Hansen said it’s the children who had benefited from the program who will suffer the most. She said two of the children she worked with will have no one to help them through the court system.

“Now they have absolutely no advocate,” she said. “They have no one to help them.”

Contact Jeanne LeFlore at jleflore@mcalesternews.com.