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Everyday Evangelists: Franciscan Sister recognized for work with children

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Friday, August 20, 2010

By Mary Caffrey Knapke

DAYTON DEANERY — Children living in a troubled family situation may sometimes be in danger of being lost in the shuffle of a complex system of courts and social services. But when children work with a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) like Franciscan Sister of the Poor Arleen Bourquin, their voices can be heard.

Sister Arleen recently received the Gold Star Award for her volunteer work with CASA at the Montgomery County Juvenile Court. The award was presented at the 22nd annual CASA Volunteer Recognition Program on May 27.

Franciscan Sister of the Poor Arleen Bourquin
Franciscan Sister of the Poor Arleen Bourquin poses with Montgomery County Juvenile Court Judges Anthony Capizzi, left, and Nick Kuntz at the CASA Volunteer Recognition Program in May. (Courtesy photo)

“My role when I visit families and talk to the children and parents is to try to determine what is best for the child,” Sister Arleen said.
Families enter the system from a variety of backgrounds and for many different reasons, but most often, Sister Arleen serves as a liaison between children, parents, lawyers, social workers and the judge or magistrate.

She became a CASA volunteer in 2007. Since then, she has served six families and 15 children. At the recognition program, Gina Fuller, CASA director at the Montgomery County Juvenile Court, said that Sister Arleen “is a strong advocate for children, yet easily develops a rapport with them and the adults involved.”
CASA was founded in 1977 by King County (Wash.) Superior Court Judge David W. Soukup. Three years later, CASA was established in Ohio in Lucas County. Today, more than 68,000 CASA volunteers serve over a thousand CASA programs nationwide. Within Ohio, approximately 2,000 CASA volunteers serve 8,000 children in 38 counties.

“I think it’s a wonderful ministry,” Sister Arleen said of the program. “It may not be sponsored by the Catholic church or by a parish, but until you hear some of the stories, you just don’t know the lives of these kids.”
Sister Arleen grew up in Resurrection Parish in Dayton and attended the former Julienne High School. She then became a registered nurse and worked at St. Elizabeth Hospital for three years before entering St. Clare Convent in Cincinnati in 1962.
“I went down and talked to the provincial, and six weeks later, I was in the convent,” she said, adding that she is looking forward to celebrating her 50th Jubilee in 2012.

After joining the community, she earned advanced nursing degrees and then taught for 10 years at Raymond Walters College at the University of Cincinnati in Blue Ash. In recent years, she has focused her attention on spirituality, serving as a spiritual director and teaching a course in spiritual direction at the Bergamo Center in Dayton. She also teaches religious education and is involved in various liturgical ministries at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Centerville.
Sister Arleen said her background prepared her well for her role with CASA. In addition to being a nurse, she served as a volunteer and staff member at Women Helping Women in Cincinnati, where she helped support abused women by accompanying them in court or in the hospital. She has also taught about sexual abuse of children.”

All those things, I think, gave me a real firm foundation in working with CASA…. I knew I was in the right spot to work with kids.”

As a CASA volunteer and guardian ad litem (legal guardian), Sister Arleen visits families, attends court hearings, and, if necessary, can visit a child’s school or doctor and have access to personal records. She carefully gathers information and prepares a report that is distributed to the judge or magistrate, as well as the lawyers and social workers involved in the case. Her recommendations may be taken into consideration by the court in deciding the best course of action for the child or children in question.
Sister Arleen said she’s able to build a rapport with families because “I always tell them that my role is to try to help the court see what’s in the best interest of the child or their children. So I usually try to emphasize with them that I’m not there to try to take their children away from them. I know they love their children and they want the best for them.”
If a case does require that children must be temporarily removed from the home, “that will give the mother an opportunity to improve her life skills or parenting skills, so she can become a better person and that way become a better mother for her children,” she said.
Sister Arleen said she gains inspiration from the love of Christ. “That’s one of my motivating things now, just to try to be open and embrace people,” even in difficult circumstances.
Her work pays off in the joy of drawing out a shy child who eventually becomes comfortable enough to give her a hug or reach for her hand. “That makes it all worth it,” she said.

Mary Caffrey Knapke can be reached at [email protected].

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