A passion for helping children
April 18, 2017
Sixteen years ago Terry Palmitier stood before a judge in Douglas County District Court, and it was the start to one of the most rewarding experiences of her life.
Palmitier began volunteering for Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) in 2001. The organization, comprised mainly of volunteers, advocates for children who are caught in the court system.
"It's probably the most rewarding volunteer work because you're invested," she said. "It's not that hard if you like kids and want to see that they're well-cared for. It's just so, so rewarding."
Palmitier, 68, a retired Navy supply officer, had recently relocated to the Carson Valley from Southern California when she saw an article in The Record-Courier about CASA volunteers.
"I thought, well, I'll give it a shot," she said. "It was little scary — the word 'court' was in there. I'd never been in a courtroom in my life … That guy up there in the black robe — oh my."
Over the years she has learned that judges and lawyers are just regular people, and she keeps her focus on helping children.
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"I enjoy it because it's a little investigative," she said. "You get to know not only the children, but to know what's happening (with their family, school, etc.) The circle just expands."
Although she doesn't track the number of cases she works on, she said the majority involve alcohol or drug abuse in the family. She is currently working on two cases and said she spends about four or five hours per week on them.
"It takes a little bit of time, but heck, we waste that much time watching TV," she said.
Several years ago Palmitier was involved in a case where five siblings were relocated around Christmas time to Elko —the closest place where someone would take in all five children at once.
Palmitier drove to Elko to deliver Christmas gifts to the children and saw there were no services in the area for them. She reported what she saw to the Douglas judge working on the case, and the children were relocated to the Carson Valley.
Around the same time, former CASA Executive Director Linda Cuddy was working on a case where the children had been relocated to Fallon.
"She had one in Fallon; I had one in Elko — that's just not right," she said.
No matter how bad a child's home life is, that child almost always wants to see his or her parents, and it's also hard for children when they are removed from their schools and friends, she said.
Palmitier and Cuddy brainstormed ideas to help children such as the ones they had just worked with, and the idea for Austin's House was born. Opened in 2007, Austin's House is a shelter in northern Douglas County for children up to age 18 who need emergency placement after being removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect. Palmitier serves on the Board of Directors for the house.
One of the challenges of working with children at Austin's House or CASA is seeing some of the circumstances they grow up in, she said. The children who were placed in Elko grew up panhandling and not attending school.
"It was difficult to tell them it wasn't the way most people did things," she said. "You can't let it get to you. You have to let it go."
Also over the years, Palmitier's worked with children who grew up to have their own children become part of the system.
"Sometimes it's generational," she said. "Their mom showed them how to do it. How do you kick that?"
She hangs onto hope, though, that most families want to be reunited.
"There's a lot of parents that see the light, because there's nothing worse than having your children taken away from you," she said.