Myrlee Gray: Marking a decade of dedicated service
A decade of service has been fueled by passion and positive impact for Myrlee Gray. February marks Mrylee’s 10-year anniversary with Northeastern Indiana CASA where she works as a Case Manager for the nonprofit providing “a voice for powerless children involved in judicial proceedings.”
In addition to having a caseload of more than 15 cases at one time, Myrlee also offers support and guidance to the organization's group of volunteers. However, it’s the facets of Mylee’s job that won’t be identified on a resume that makes her efforts far-reaching.
“I first became involved with a 14-year-old boy whose parents’ had their rights terminated five years prior to my assignment. There were behavioral concerns and his mother struggled to control her son,” Myrlee said. She remembers the boy telling her that he had lived in different institutions since he was nine years old. He was not told about the decision to terminate parental rights and his behavior reflected a host of emotions.
“He told me was so scared that he slept in the floor against his door, so no one could come in to hurt him. Every time he was placed in a pre-adoptive home he did things so outraged, the family wouldn't want him. He would act out thinking that it was the ticket to going back home.”
Myrlee said the boy continued this behavior for the next three years, all in hopes to return to his mother, but again not knowing or understanding what all had transpired to separate the boy and his mom. This situation was not acceptable to Myrlee.
“I tracked down his grandmother who began visiting him and taking him fishing, but she never offered to take him on a more permanent basis,” Myrlee remembers. “He began writing his mother, but even though that correspondence had been established, he continued getting into trouble.”
At age 17 the boy was placed in a juvenile detention center, and at age 18 he was released. He located his mother and was reunited with her, but Myrlee says the “old behaviors” continued. Now the boy, who has turned into an adult, is in prison.
It would be easy for case managers and volunteers to deem this case a “failure,” but Myrlee continues to hold out hope.
“I take heart that he was reunited with his mother who is his now his only support and any hope for a future when he is released from prison. I think he may possibly have had a better outcome had someone acted as his advocate at the age of nine.”
And that’s what Myrlee does day in and day out. She has spent her 10 years matching children to volunteers, attending court hearings, participating in family preservation programs and monthly child protection team meetings. She is no doubt motivated by that nine-year-old boy, and numerous other children, who need someone to advocate for their best interests and strive to improve their circumstances and quality of life.
Before her role with Northeastern Indiana CASA, Myrlee worked as a nurse. The experience afforded her an inside view of the need that was in her community.
“I heard many stories from children and parents. I heard their struggles and frustrations with the fact that no one really listened to what they needed or wanted. I felt I wanted to be that voice for these kids,” said Myrlee. “Many parents have attorneys who advocate for their rights in court. But a CASA volunteer advocates for the rights, needs and wants of the children. We offer recommendations to the judge to what is in the best interest of the children.”
In addition to the support in the courtroom, Myrlee, and the team of staff and volunteers, keep abreast of services and resources available in the community that might help families and children in need.
“Sometimes it is only a matter of rental or utility assistance, transportation needs, food banks, job training or adequate childcare that is needed to keep children in their homes,” says Myrlee. “CASAs advocate for a child's educational, physical and mental health needs as well as ensure they are successful in life and not falling into negative footsteps of their parents.”
Recent reports have listed Indiana in the top five states that have the highest number of children in custody. Many of these children, more than half, were removed due to drug and alcohol abuse.
“Addiction has led to homelessness. Kids go hungry, they can witness domestic violence, and miss school,” Myrlee says. “These children can become neglected or abused while caregivers are feeding their addictions. When caregivers are arrested, they leave these children with no one to take care of them, so they are placed in foster care.
Through her 10 years of experience, Myrlee says that while the mission of CASA is the same, judges, attorneys and child service organizations have become more aware of the positive influence CASA staff and volunteers can have in the life of the children they serve.
“When attorneys from both sides argue good points for that case, the volunteer can tip the balance so that the best interest of the child is the focus,” says Myrlee. “Children are the future of our communities. By helping these children be the best they can be, we build stronger, more positive communities.”