After retiring from work at Excel Industries in Hesston, Duane Graham had some extra time on his hands. It didn't take him long to find his next endeavor, though, as a flyer he saw at his church (First Presbyterian) piqued his interest in volunteering with CASA: A Voice for Children.
"I like kids, but I didn't really know what it was all about till I interviewed," Graham said. "When you see something you feel like you can do and you feel like you can make a good contribution, you need to do that rather than just sitting or watching television."
Once he began, Graham was hooked and has been helping CASA for nearly two decades now, serving 10 years as a court-appointed special advocate and as a board member for the last seven years.
While it might have simply been a case of being in the right place at the right time that led Graham to start working with CASA, an internal drive to give back and the support of his family kept him on that path. In addition to working with CASA, Graham is also a member of the mission team at First Presbyterian Church and has served on boards for the Hesston Public Library and Dyck Arboretum in the past.
For CASA, Graham started in an extremely hands-on role, as advocates represents the best interests of abused and neglected children within the court system (i.e. counseling, visitation with family, adoption, etc.). The work of CASA is based on the belief that all children are entitled to a safe and permanent home.
Through his years as an advocate, Graham helped 15 children in their cases, with most going on to be adopted into new homes. Seeing those positive outcomes, Graham said, really made the commitment worth it.
"You feel an accomplishment when you see a child go from being abused to finding a happy result or good result, a change in their lives," Graham said. "You see those kids go from the potential of going to become violent in their later lives, treat their own children the way they're being treated, or you see them with the possibility of going into a good home and maybe learning the skills of becoming a good parent and contributing member to the community, and that's what's exciting to me."
Serving as a board member, Graham's role has transitioned. While his interaction with the kids has taken a backseat, he is still very much involved with furthering the mission of CASA.
"You go from working in the field with kids, and working with the attorneys and courts and social workers and things like that, to working to find funds to fund the organization. There's a lot of difference between that," Graham said.
Given the problem with abuse Graham has seen very clearly through his work with CASA, he is happy to continue helping the non-profit no matter the role.
CASA, in fact, is always looking to fill various roles throughout the organization, Graham said, from advocates to board members to office help. It can be a daunting commitment, but Graham noted it is work you can be proud of for the impact on the community.
"My advice is don't be too sensitive; don't be afraid to go in and wade in and help those kids," Graham said. "It's a big decision, and yeah, you're going to be emotionally involved, but you're going to be helping kids greater than you can possibly help them by not doing anything."