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Darlene Sullivan: Regaining Her Voice, and Using It to Speak Up for Children

CASA volunteer Darlene Sullivan
"If everybody would help one person who is in need, what a different world we would have."

Four years ago, Darlene Sullivan was told that she might never have a voice again. Today she is speaking up for the needs of two little girls and their mother as a CASA volunteer.

Darlene always felt that helping children was her passion. When she heard about the CASA program from a customer at the bank where she worked, she knew advocating for abused children would be a great fit. It took her a while, but eventually she contacted the Advocates for Children CASA program in her hometown of Columbus, IN, and submitted her application to become a volunteer in late 2009.

Then everything changed.

On January 10, 2010, Darlene woke up with a cold. By the end of the evening she had lost her voice.

“It was not the first time I lost my voice. But this time it wasn’t coming back,” Darlene says.

Darlene spent the next two years making the rounds of ear, nose and throat doctors, with no conclusive results. She lost her job at the bank, and abandoned her plans to become a CASA volunteer.

By December 2012, Darlene was slowly adjusting to her voiceless existence when a doctor of speech pathologist finally arrived at a definitive diagnosis of her ailmentabductor spasmodic dysphoniain which muscle spasms affect the vocal folds. While the physician delivered the bad news that Darlene's condition was permanent, she also offered Darlene what she describes as an early Christmas gift: a device that would amplify her whispery, faint voice so that she could be heard again.

“The doctor hooked me up to the machine and had me count to five. By four my voice was coming out. I got to five and cried. This angel—the speech pathologist—had given me my voice back.”

One of the first calls that Darlene made was to the CASA program office. Her conviction to help children live the lives they deserve had only grown over the last three years.

Darlene joined a training class in January 2012 and took her first case the next month.

Today Darlene is the angel, helping two little girls reunify with a mother whose love for her children is greater than her parenting skills. As Darlene describes it, the mother has a history of poor choices and habits that they are working to overcome, to equip the mother to be the parent Darlene believes all children deserve.

“If parents can learn a better way, and make it better for the kids, hallelujah! That’s what we all want.”


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The US Department of Justice has supported CASA advocacy since 1985 through its Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
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