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Desert Companion

Profile: 'It's about keeping people from falling through the cracks.'

Ted Hartwell

Born in Spokane and raised in Texas, Ted Hartwell came to Vegas in 1991 for all the unusual reasons — scouring Yucca Mountain for archeological sites as a member of the research faculty of the Desert Research Institute and playing cello in the Las Vegas Philharmonic. However, living in this city excavated something destructive in his personality. A gambling addiction. After relying on the social safety net for treatment, he found more constructive ways to spend his time. Two years ago he became a volunteer for Clark County’s Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program. Why? Paying it forward. “I came close to putting my family through the anguish that some of these families might be enduring.” The mission: Giving kids a voice in the system. With 3,500 abused, neglected kids in the foster care system, being an advocate is critical. His role is to ensure a child’s best interests are represented in court, that every child is placed in a safe home, and that every child achieves permanency in a timely fashion. An advocate often serves as the only permanent figure in the life of a kid, who’s likely bounced from foster home to foster home, school to school. Hartwell’s goal is to reunite the family. But first things first: Not before parents succeed in overcoming their own challenges. “Sharing my story with families is meant to give hope, to inspire them to do the work necessary to reunite.” Courtoom drama. So far he’s worked two cases, reuniting families at the mercy of the 8th Judicial Court. He generates an official report on the child or family in question and offers testimony. Judges weigh this information carefully before making a decision, asking advocates to speak on behalf of the child. Help needed. CASA (www.casalasvegas.org) needs volunteers—or rather the children do. Only 20 percent of kids currently in the system have someone in their corner. “You greatly reduce the time a child spends caught in the legal machine,” says Hartwell on the effectiveness of being a CASA volunteer. “You can make a real difference here.”

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