By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Compassion for kids

Marcus Larson/News-RegisterKaren Manfrin has been a court-appointed special advocate for children for 19 years. She had a great childhood, she said, but not everyone does, so she volunteers to do what she can to ease children’s troubles.
Marcus Larson/News-Register
Karen Manfrin has been a court-appointed special advocate for children for 19 years. She had a great childhood, she said, but not everyone does, so she volunteers to do what she can to ease children’s troubles.

“I grew up with no experience of any of the things many kids face every day,” said the McMinnville woman, whose 2,280 hours of service over 19 years with the Court Appointed Special Advocates program helped her become one of a handful of people recognized with a 2014 Governor’s Volunteer Award. She will be honored with a regional Lifetime Achievement award at a luncheon in Salem on April 24.

Manfrin, who came here with husband Casey in 1982, grew up in California with two parents who stayed married.

She and her two sisters went to a good school near their home and played in a neighborhood where children felt safe. Their lives were stable, happy and free of worries about violence or drugs.

But not every child grows up that way, as she well knows.

In fact, the more she’s learned about what others have missed and suffered, she said, the more she’s realized “how lucky I am.” She said, “It’s made me a more compassionate, empathetic person.”

That feeling has underscored her desire to return some of her good fortune by helping others, specifically the kids to whom she’s assigned as a CASA. “It just seems right to me to provide a voice for these children,” she said.

In addition to volunteering as a CASA, Manfrin has helped many times with the program’s annual fundraising auction and dinner.

This year’s event will start at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, April 26, in the McMinnville Grand Ballroom. It will feature live and silent auctions, dinner, a wine raffle and entertainment by the Yamhillbillies. Tickets are $65 per person, available at

Manfrin heard about the CASA program almost two decades ago, when it was fairly new to Yamhill County. She saw a notice in the News-Register saying more volunteers were needed.

She already had a lot on her plate — she had two young sons, and a job as a teaching assistant in a special needs classroom at Memorial Elementary School — but she knew she wanted to make time for CASA as well.

The training was eye-opening, she said.

“On an intellectual level, I knew what was happening to kids, but emotionally it pretty much rocked my world,” she said. “It was intense.”

She cried when she read cases studies, such as the tale of a child sexually abused by a grandparent. She cried again when she realized how many others have experienced similarly terrible things.

“We see kids every day living with unspeakable acts,” she said.

Her tears didn’t deter her. In fact, she became more convinced than ever that she was needed, and was sworn in by Judge John Collins in March 1995.

Nineteen years later, Manfrin knows she made the right decision. Her volunteer work hasn’t been easy, but it’s been interesting and rewarding in many ways. “I’ve met amazing people, at DHS, mental health, in law enforcement,” she said.

All those agencies work together to help children, she said, and it’s important that they do. “It takes a village...” she said, “and these are the villages we create around these kids.”

She said she knows she and other CASAs have helped many children over the years.

“As a CASA, you advocate for the child; no matter what your personal feelings are or how you would do things, you advocate for what’s best for the kids,” she said. For example, the parents might not run their home the way the CASA runs hers, she said, but the CASA has to put aside her own feelings and consider whether it’s better for the child to be with his own parents.

“Even with families I think make questionable decisions ... I remind myself it’s not my job to impose my own values,” she said. “Instead, I ask, do they love their children? Do they keep them safe? Do they provide a good life for the child, even though it’s not what I would do?”

She usually works with one case at a time, although she’s sometimes had two. Volunteers sometimes double up, as there are aways more cases than CASAs, and cases that involve multiple children from the same family may stretch on for months or even years.

Every case is different, but almost all involve drugs in some way, particularly methamphetamine. Neglect is common, and so are a variety of other kinds of negligent or criminal behavior — “anything you can imagine” and more, Manfrin said.

“Not every case takes the same intensity,” she said. “Some are significantly more challenging.”

CASAs don’t always know the results of their work. Sometimes, Manfrin said, “you cross your fingers” as a case ends. It may be months or years — or never — before they hear how the child is doing.

Once, she finished a complex, multi-year case in which the grandparents were eventually awarded guardianship of the children. “I thought that was the best outcome,” she said.

She resigned herself to never knowing the rest of the story, though. Then, years later, she was delighted when the grandmother approached her in a store and told her about the children’s college plans, activities and other successes.

Because of privacy issues, Manfrin would not have spoken to the grandmother herself. She always waits for the other parties to decide what they’re comfortable with.

In this case, she said, “I’m so fortunate she shared that with me.”


Sally G

Thanks, Karen, for your good work!

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