According to Nya Cruse, a ProKids CASA Manager, Heather Sponaugle’s persistence and dedication make her a model volunteer. “When I think of a CASA Volunteer, Heather is who I picture,” she said.
Because of that, Nya personally nominated Heather for two awards this year: one through Ohio CASA and another through ProKids. In October, Heather was officially honored as a 2023 Darlene Kamine Advocate of the Year.
A volunteer since early 2022, Heather has seen her kids through every challenge. From the very first meeting, she fell in love with 6-year-old “Leo’s” sweet spirit and 10-year-old “Laura’s” spunky attitude. She’s sat in countless meetings to get the kids in therapy, specialized classrooms, summer camps and better foster homes. You name it, she has advocated for it.
She was also instrumental in seeing the case’s full picture. From the very beginning, she visited Leo and Laura frequently and spoke to every professional around them – uncovering the horrific abuses that caused their removal. As the ProKids team learned more and more, it became clear that Leo and Laura should not return home.
By engaging a psychiatrist to submit a letter for ProKids, Heather and Nya were able to halt discussion of reunification. In the words of that psychiatrist: the abuse was “violent, endured and sadistic.”
Because of this, Heather aimed to get them into therapy ASAP. She took it upon herself to research the services available, and working with Nya, she coordinated assessments at a school that specialized in trauma behaviors. She fought at every step to get these kids the help they needed.
In each placement, and there have been many, the resulting bond between Heather and the kids provided protection:
- When a foster mom was emotionally abusive and intentionally kept Heather from the children, she was able to advocate for a placement change.
- When Laura called Heather from her school to say she was scared in their third foster home, Heather spoke to her teachers to corroborate what Laura told her: that the foster mom hit her adoptive children. As kids who experienced violence at the hands of their own mom, of course they wouldn’t feel safe.
- When Heather discovered that a different foster home was withholding Laura’s medications, she reported the neglect to 241-KIDS.
Heather has been there for these kids through it all – at Laura’s hospital bed when she experienced suicidal ideation. And advocating for Leo as he began having auditory and visual hallucinations.
Today, the kids are together – and finally in a safe and nurturing foster placement. Thanks to Heather, their complex needs are finally being met.
“Sometimes you do work, and you’re aware you’ve made an extra effort,” Heather said. “While I admit this case has been difficult, I don’t know how you would have worked it any other way. I just did and will continue to do what is needed.”
Despite this case being both emotionally and physically taxing, Heather has persisted for these kids. “The ground is constantly shifting under their feet, but the main constant is Heather, who will move heaven and earth for these kids,” Nya said.