Celebrating Lorna Rexrode's 25 Year "CASAversary"
Written by Allison Stronza, Executive Director
Dedicated, hardworking, reliable, honest, humble, trustworthy…those are just some of the words that come to mind when I think of Lorna. Lorna Rexrode is our Associate Director and this year, she is celebrating 25 years with CASA of Central Virginia. The first 10 years were as a CASA volunteer advocating for 84 children. The next 15 years have been on staff, first as an Advocate Manager and now as Associate Director.
In her current role, Lorna oversees all of our program staff and their cases, monitors the volunteer screening and selection process, maintains quality standards of our program and of the data entered in our case management database, and manages the training courses that our program offers three times per year. As if that didn’t keep her busy enough, she also supervises a group of CASA volunteers.
Lorna’s extensive knowledge of the child welfare system, expertise with our database (which has been helpful all over the state to other CASA programs), and her standards for excellence have made her a stand-out member of the CASA team. I am grateful for the opportunity to work alongside her and prayerful that she will be on our team for many years to come.
I sat down with Lorna for an interview for this blog post. If you know Lorna, you know she wasn’t exactly thrilled about the idea of being in the spotlight. Lorna, thank you for stepping outside of your comfort zone so that others might also get a chance to know what a gift you are to CASA.
Tell me a little about you and your background.
I have lived in the Lynchburg area my entire life. Upon graduation, I married Ricky, my wonderful husband for going on 38 years. We added Annie, a redbone hound, to our family about 8 years ago. She initiated her rescue by showing up at our back door, 20 pounds underweight. Upon graduation, I started working in retail sales and continued in that field of work for 23 years prior to coming on staff with CASA of Central VA 15 years ago. During that time, I started to plug away at continuing my education, attending CVCC in the General Studies program, with an interest in Psychology. Following CVCC, I pursued an Interdisciplinary Studies Degree through Liberty University with a focus in Business and Psychology. I love to learn and have continued to expand my knowledge through a variety of sources over the years. I also enjoy serving, and as time has allowed, I have been involved with various committees and task forces within the child welfare system and beyond.
What led you to CASA 25 years ago as an advocate?
When I was pursuing my undergraduate studies many years ago, children and psychology were my primary interest. After taking all the classes I could complete that would work within my retail work schedule, I took a break until I could complete my classes with Summer Intensives. I decided at that time, I wanted to find a way to serve children in need with my extra time. I was not previously familiar with CASA, but soon learned about CASA when I started pursuing volunteer opportunities in the community to work with children. It sounded like a good fit for me since it was more complex and challenging than a traditional mentorship type role. I went through the interview and training process, and was thrilled to be accepted as a volunteer. During my tenure as a volunteer, I served in Campbell County, Lynchburg, Bedford and Amherst; each providing a unique experience.
You advocated for 84 children. That’s amazing! Tell me about a volunteer experience that always sticks with you.
I had never had a strong interest to serve teens, and had predominately leaned in the direction of serving younger children. I finally accepted the challenge and was appointed to a teen girl who had been abandoned by her mother. She had been left in their home with no food, electricity, or money to survive. Plus, she was diabetic. Working with this young lady was one of the best experiences I had as a volunteer. You could see the impact it was having to have a caring adult in her life after all she had experienced. She eventually moved into a permanent home and I was released as her CASA. Fast forward 12 years. Unfortunately, as she moved into adulthood, she did not have continued support and guidance. She now had her own child who was in the foster care system. I received an emotional call one night from one of the advocate managers who had gone out to visit this mother. When the advocate manager explained the role of CASA, this mother told her she knew about CASA. She told the volunteer that she had a CASA (me) when she was a teen what I did for her. Later in that case, I found out that with all she had been through over the 12 years that had passed, she still had the set of nail polish I had given her when I was her CASA. Her health was now deteriorating and she was in and out of the hospital. I decided to go out with the advocate manager to visit with her. It was difficult to see her in such a compromised health and life state. I tried to reflect on the positive times we shared and the meaningful way we connected when she was a teen, which she appeared to carry with her over the years.
Unfortunately, when she was a teen, there was not the current option of the Fostering Futures program to provide teens, aging out of foster care, continued support, monitoring, financial and educational resources, as well as the option for CASA to continue to support and facilitate their independence. I have seen many legislative changes over the years, most for the good. For the benefit of our older youth aging out of foster care, Fostering Futures was a milestone in helping facilitate and increase the chances of success for our older youth aging out of foster care.
What led you to joining the staff of CASA 15 years ago?
As staff positions became available, I was encouraged to apply by my advocate manager. My volunteer work was very fulfilling, so entertaining this option was intriguing. When the Lynchburg advocate manager became available, I decided to apply. After 23 years in the same job, it seemed to be a good time for a change. I realized the advocate manager role would be quite different than the volunteer role. But, it could provide me the opportunity to help positively impact the lives of even more children through supporting other volunteers in their work. Being part of CASA full-time would also provide an excellent opportunity to expand my knowledge of the system as well as community resources, which I could share with others. Although I had volunteered with CASA for 10 years prior to coming on staff, I did not realize how much I didn’t know until I was deeply enthralled in the work and system on a daily basis. Each day has been different and exciting.
What are you most proud of over the past 15-25 years?
I am proud to be able to play a part in facilitating positive change and growth within the system, State CASA Network and our CASA of Central VA program. It’s quite fulfilling to work as a team, alongside our great staff and volunteers, others in our network and system to increase service to children and families and continue to overcome unmet needs and help facilitate positive outcomes. When you put a team of passionate people together, focused on goals to serve the community’s abused and neglected children, the opportunities are endless.
You are obviously dedicated to and passionate about this mission. What keeps you here and keeps you motivated?
The children ultimately need us, and I enjoy doing everything I can to help facilitate our ability to successfully meet that need. Sure there are some really tough days, but there are also very happy days filled with success stories. Those are the days I reflect on when those tough days come along. The work could not be done without everyone working together, and I think that is something we do rather well at CASA. Everyone is always busy, but also willing to help out and go the extra mile when needed. The volunteers are at the heart of our organization and are such an inspiration. They freely give so much of their selves to stand-up and be a voice for an abused or neglected children, which can also come with frustrations and challenges along the way. Sometimes at the time, they may not even realize the value of their involvement and the lifelong impact they are providing to children and families. CASA is a special organization and the passion, hard-work and dedication consistently demonstrated by all involved to benefit our community’s children, current and future families, is what continues to motivate me.
This work is difficult. How do you carve out time for you?
The majority of the time, I don’t do a very good job of this, but I’m making progress. It can be hard to try to step away when there are needs. Although, recognizing when I have hit the proverbial wall is important. Knowing that a little time away from the work and the constant needs, is necessary for everyone to recharge and be able to continue to be of assistance. I have a tendency to keep pushing through. There is just something about a little separation that helps provide that physical and psychological distance. The beach is my happy place and how I’m able to truly get distracted and have a little distance from the daily demands and recharge. I thoroughly enjoy just being outside, especially in the warmer months. I enjoy flower and vegetable gardening and seeing things grow and thrive through care and nurturing. The longer and warmer days of the spring and summer months help provide that opportunity after work to focus some attention to the outdoors.
What do you want your legacy to this organization to be?
The children are our true legacy so making decisions that contribute to their success and for all at CASA that touch their lives, is my focus. It’s important for us to change the course of a child’s legacy from continued trauma, to love, nurturing and a happy and safe home. We all should be doing something meaningful and be giving our all. Helping to lead and support the efforts that ultimately positively alter the trajectory of the life of a child, is something I take seriously and I would be proud to be remembered in that light. I can hope that for each person I reach in my role, each decision made, suggestion given - that someone learns something from that experience which helps multiply positive impacts for others.