This article originally appeared in the Long Beach Signal Tribune, May 8, 2015.
The nonprofit CASA of Los Angeles has named Maureen Wharton as its outstanding 2015 Volunteer of the Year, an honor selected by a committee of program staff, board members and volunteers from among several candidates who have been nominated by judicial officers or others involved in the child welfare system. The award is presented at the annual Volunteer Appreciation Luncheon, which took place last week at Lumenarias in Monterey Park. Edelmen Children’s Court Judge Marguerite Downing, who nominated Wharton for the honor, presented the award.
Maureen Wharton has been selected as the nonprofit organization CASA’s outstanding 2015 Volunteer of the Year. Having volunteered since 2006, Wharton has worked with five foster children, one of whom had been a victim of human trafficking.
Wharton has been a CASA volunteer since February 2006. After she had been looking into ways in which to tutor or help foster children, a friend of Maureen’s who worked at the Department of Child & Family Services brought the organization to her attention. She has been at CASA ever since, working with five children over the years, three of whose cases are ongoing. In part, this year’s award stems from her recent efforts with a young woman who was a victim of human trafficking, advocating for her educational rights, and working with the Long Beach Unified School District to arrange for her placement at a specialized school out of state.
“CASA means everything to me,” Wharton said. “I feel that it is one of the most important positions I’ve had in my life. I take it very seriously, and it is also very gratifying when one can accomplish one task for a youth in the foster system. I was completely surprised when I learned I had won this award, and I’m grateful for the honor.”
Maureen also had words of wisdom to share with other CASA volunteers.
“Be consistent with the child,” she said. “Don’t give up. Often the CASA volunteer is the closest thing to a family member that the child ever experiences.”
CASA/LA Executive Director Dilys Garcia said the effort Wharton has put forth to help special-needs children during her time with CASA has been “nothing short of incredible.” “And from those efforts come the tangible rewards of seeing those children blossom once they are given the chance at having a real future and a positive track for their lives,” Garcia said.
Wharton is a former employee of UC Irvine, where she resided for 27 years and was director of the student-owned travel agency until the school closed its student-owned operations in 2004.
After taking early retirement, she explored a career in real estate, which she has pursued for the past 11 years. She has also worked with various neighborhood, civic and children’s aid organizations in the past, including Stop Gap, a program that utilized drama therapy for abused youth.