Bright, bubbly and sweet, with a smile that reaches straight from her mouth to shine from her eyes and an infectiously energetic manner, Willi Baer is one of Pahrump’s best known activists.
She has spent years tending to various causes, helping found invaluable organizations and promote a positive community vibe. Now, while she is certainly not stepping completely away from those activities, Baer is preparing to let go of one of the most strenuous positions she currently holds, that of executive director for Pioneer Territory Court Appointed Special Advocates.
Better known simply as CASA, this nonprofit organization is dedicated to providing advocates for children in foster care, helping to ensure their voices are heard and that they are ultimately placed in permanent, loving homes. Baer was one of the main drivers behind the initiation of the nonprofit, detailing, “We began a steering committee in 2010 to establish a child advocacy program here in Nye County. On February 1, 2011 we became operational. I was asked at the time to commit to two years to get CASA up and running and now, eight years later, I have decided to retire.”
Baer remarked that heading CASA was a decision that was taken out of her hands. Once she began to learn more about the depths involved with the program, she simply couldn’t turn away, she recalled.
“From day one when I looked at the materials on CASA and read the children’s stories, I could not say no. Prior to CASA, many children languished in the court system, which was overloaded and understaffed. Now, these children in foster care not only have a friend and a person who looks over their well-being, but also gives them a voice in court,” Baer said. “There are many times in court that once the judge has heard from both sides, he/she believes they have arrived at a decision, but then changes it once they hear the CASA report and they will rule in favor of CASA’s recommendation. My hope is that one day, every set of siblings in foster care have a CASA to stand up for them in court.”
Thankfully, Baer said she has a trustworthy set of hands to place her beloved organization into, with Kathie McKenna selected as the new CASA executive director. “Kathie not only has 30 years of executive level experience but she has also been heavily involved in charitable organizations during that time, helping with events and fundraising,” Baer enthused. “Add to that, she was also sworn in as a CASA Advocate last November so she has already been involved with CASA. I think the community will also find her outgoing and engaging and she enjoys working closely with the community. I am confident that under the new leadership CASA will continue to thrive.”
Baer is finishing out her last few weeks at CASA with her official retirement date set for November 15. McKenna has already been welcomed to the team and Baer is taking time to assist with the transition. “I have committed to the board to stay a month to work with Kathie and ‘teach her the ropes’,” Baer said, remarking that McKenna has already been welcomed to the team and she hit the ground running, working in the official capacity of executive director with Baer by her side.
As for the future, Baer said she is looking forward to being able to dedicate more time to personal pursuits but those will still be balanced with community activism. “Now that I have retired, for the second time, I plan to finish a couple books that are in the works, now that I have time! I will also do a little painting and traveling. However, I will still be involved with the non-profit community; I will be teaching a class on nonprofits in January,” Baer said.
To celebrate the start of a new chapter in her life, a retirement/birthday party was hosted for Baer on Oct. 20 at the Pahrump Nugget and true to her generous nature, Baer used that opportunity to boost CASA. She requested guests make donations to CASA in lieu of giving her gifts, a gesture that inspired $5,000 in contributions.
“The party was a wonderful success! It was so great that my family and friends came out to celebrate my birthday as well as my second retirement. It always makes me smile to see the generosity of this community. I am pleased to announce we raised just shy of $5,000. I was ecstatic to see our results!” Baer said with obvious delight. “I would love to thank my family and friends, DCFS, the judges, our advocates and the community at large for helping to start CASA and the ongoing and continued support. CASA was my baby and as I pass it to the next caregivers, it will become my grandchild; still very near and dear to my heart.”
Contact reporter Robin Hebrock at firstname.lastname@example.org