RINCON — While packing up her office recently, Lainie Jenkins left something very important behind -- a very large piece of her heart.
Jenkins has retired after spending more than seven years as executive director of Child Advocacy Services of Southeast Georgia Inc. She had been with the organization, commonly known as CASA, since 2010.
“I had no idea this cause was going to sink its teeth into me where it was my life — and I’m so appreciative” she said.
Jenkins supervised a group of volunteers appointed by judges to watch over and advocate for abused and neglected children, to make sure they don’t get lost in the legal and social service system or languish in inappropriate group or foster homes. Volunteers stay with each case until it is closed and the child is placed in a safe, permanent home.
For many abused children, their CASA/GAL volunteer will be the one constant adult presence in their lives.
“So we know you never worked (just) 40 hours (a week,” Child Advocacy Services of Southeast Georgia Board Chair Karen Cote said to Jenkins during a Jan. 17 party in her honor. “This has been a calling for the past almost eight years.”
Cote listed CASA achievements under Jenkins’ direction.
Jenkins started her child advocacy career in June 2010 as a part-time volunteer coordinator, working 15 hours a week. At that time, her organization’s annual budget was $47,000.
“When we began, there were four kids and three active volunteers,” Cote said. “It was a very small program at that time.”
In 2011, Jenkins was named executive director, while still serving as a volunteer coordinator. and the program quickly grew. It had 40 children and 19 volunteers by the end of that year.
Currently, it serves 152 children with 53 volunteers and a $240,000 budget.
Jenkins’ successor is Suzanne Christian, a former CASA board member and volunteer.
“Initially, I said I had big shoes to fill so I was not interested in this position,” Christian said. “After being on the job for two and half weeks, I realize (Jenkins) does not have big shoes to fill. She has ginormous shoes to fill.”
Christian told Jenkins she will always be welcome at CASA.
“This is your thing,” Christian said. “I hope not to disappoint you and continue what you started.”
Jenkins is confident CASA is in good hands.
“It’s real clear to me that (Christian) is going to be able to take CASA to the next level,” Jenkins said.