Still, most of the night’s honorees said the award is much bigger than themselves and a reflection of the giving hearts of many throughout the county
The annual Cherokee Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children Light of Hope Awards are each year in April to coincide with Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness month.
Deidre Hollands, Cherokee CASA executive director, said the efforts of those honored and the organizations they represent help build a nurturing environment for children in need.
“A child deserves the experience of being nurtured,” Hollands said. “Developing a bond with a caring adult affects all aspects of their behavior and their development. As children grow and develop, the ability to socialize, relate and communicate is essential.”
Chosen by the CASA Board of Directors, the winners were introduced by advocacy coordinators Melanie Young and Cindi Baptiste.
The first to be honored was Dr. Doug Thrasher, senior pastor at Hillside United Methodist Church in Woodstock. Thrasher, who has served north Georgia churches for the past 31 years, works closely with the church’s counseling center to help families with varying needs.
‘The truth is, this is an award that goes to a team,” Thrasher said. “Hillside United Methodist Church is heavily invested in children, from our preschool to supporting Give A Kid A Chance in the summer to preparing meals for MUST (Ministries) to feeding children to having policies (to maintain) safe sanctuaries so that all children who come into our building, onto our grounds are provided a safe environment to grow.”
Robin Wright, a member of the Woodstock Midday Optimist Club, was recognized for working with Teach One to Lead One, a 12-week mentor program that helps juveniles on probation learn to lead responsible and productive lives. For the program’s graduates, Wright and his wife, Lori, started a Junior Optimist Club for the graduates to participate in community service initiatives, including volunteering at MUST Ministries and the Cherokee Family Violence Center, as well as personal growth activities.
“What we found was, when there wasn’t a good follow up (to Teach One to Lead One), a lot of times (the children) would kind of start getting in the same trouble that they were before,” Wright said. “Someone came to me and said there was a need so we talked to the judges and we worked it out. What we do is we give these kids an opportunity to take the lessons they’ve learned in Teach One to Lead One and apply them to their everyday life and feel the joy of giving back to the community in the hope that it becomes a habit for them.”
Colleen DeLosh, in her second year as a counselor at Indian Knoll Elementary School, was recognized for her passion for student success. DeLosh, who was previously a classroom teacher, established a food pantry at Indian Knoll to meet the needs of school families.
“I love being at work every single day, not only help the students with their academics but their full picture (of needs) and to help them with whatever is going on at home or any other needs their family needs,” DeLosh said.
Kathleen Gulnick with Cherokee Department of Family and Children’s Services has worked as a case manager for almost two decades and is now a resource development worker supporting foster parents.
Gulnick said she and her co-workers perform on a daily basis “one of the hardest jobs” she has ever experienced.
“What we go through every day is crazy,” Gulnick said. “You’ve got to take the little successes when you can because a little success and a little hope can get you through for another year. This is definitely a big success for me and a lot of hope.”
Sherry Wallace, president of Cherokee County Junior Service League, a service organization that helps Cherokee families in need with rent, food or medical care, was honored for beginning the league’s first community expo this year to provide food, diapers and hygiene items to give to those in need.
Wallace, a special education teacher, said her work is shared by the 89 other women in the league who help meet the daily needs of families.
“I accept this on behalf of my 89 sisters who work to support the CASA mission,” Wallace said. “I feel like the Service League is a platform that the Lord has given me to continue to serve children.”
Finally, Canton attorney Barbara Nye was recognized for her work as a guardian at litem. Nye, president of the Cherokee County Bar Association and actively involved in the Junior Service League of Woodstock , said winning the award was a “humbling experience” and thanked her parents for always teaching her about service.
“It truly is a calling to give back to the children of Cherokee County,” she said.
Hollands ended the awards ceremony by encouraging attendees to take the inspirational actions of the winners out into the community by working with a nonprofit, starting a new initiative or finding other ways to serve children.
“I hope this isn’t a conversation that stops here,” Hollands said. “If we make sure these services, this strength and these factors are present in Cherokee County, we can see a day when we don’t have children that are in need. That’s what we’re here for and that’s what we want to see.”