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There is Still Time to be Thankful

Updated: Dec 8, 2020

Stephanie Orr has been Casa’s leader, spokesperson, and soul, for longer than I can count. When I first got to Casa in 1997, it seemed to me that she had been there forever, even though I know that is not the case. She got to Casa in 1988 and was instrumental in growing it into the amazing place I was fortunate enough to join nine years later.


I wanted to write this blog to say thank you to Stephanie and really, an extended Casa family, for their hard work and dedication to making Phoenix a better, safer, and stronger city. Casa has never really been about just one person, even if the first sentence of this blog unintentionally implied that it was so. And in proper Casa fashion, I am doing so a few days after Thanksgiving because, well, it is never too late to enjoy some good old-fashioned gratitude.


I joined an interesting and somewhat ragtag group in the prevention side of the house in 1997 that was made up of very diverse personalities. I think I fit right in, actually, and as I learned about my new peers, I was often amazed at their dedication to protecting children. There were 17 of us who were out in the schools around the valley for anywhere from 10 to 40 hours a week. I was doing our sexual abuse prevention program, Kids Talk, full-time at first, with about five other prevention specialists, and let me tell you, that is a rough job.


Being out in schools working with hundreds of children a week and taking disclosures of abuse way more often than I thought possible, I didn’t get to work with Stephanie very much in the first few years I was at Casa. We would have monthly staff meetings, though, and I would see her in the halls or she would come in to the prevention office when I was there on Fridays and was (and still is) always so interested to hear about what we were doing and how things were going.


She fought hard to get us the funding we needed to keep going out to schools and providing students with information. I think she has always understood the power of being in a room with children and letting them know that they can be a powerful part of their own safety, especially when they realize they can use their voices to be heard and protected. As a prevention team, Stephanie empowered us to be agents of positive social change well before it became part of Casa's name.


As I look back, I can clearly see that Stephanie wanted an environment where we could all use our individual and collective talents to create programs that would be alive and grow and respond to the needs of the children, teachers, and parents we served then and still serve today. She understands that for Casa to continue to do the work we do, we must stay vital and do all we can to meet needs that many people do not want to talk about. If we are being honest, many of us are not great at facing or talking about how we truly feel but we can get better at it and that's why we do what we do at Casa.


While we are not 20 people in our prevention department anymore, we are still a strong team willing to do the necessary work to create safe environments for children to thrive. Our focus these days is on Social and Emotional Learning (SEL). We were doing SEL all along, though, even when we called it Kids Talk or POWER (Positive Outcomes Within Every Relationship) or violence prevention. We were among the first agencies in Phoenix to tackle bullying prevention, as well, even if we were not great at letting people know we were doing so.


Over the next few months, I am going to help tell the Casa story, but to me, this was the best place to start. Stephanie Orr has been my boss for almost half of my life and the bulk of my professional life. To say that is an easy task would be an understatement, but she knows where my heart is and that is with empowering children to be empathetic, kind, safe, and able to hopefully experience the joy of being part of positive social change for generations to come.


Thank you, Stephanie!

Respectfully,

Tom Reardon

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