(T-G Photo by Mary Reeves)
Although he is one of the most humble men I know, Ray Wood is inspiring -- he is uplifting -- he is supportive -- and he is always there 200 percent for the children for whom he advocates.
Ray Wood became a CASA Volunteer in June 2001 after hearing a presentation at the Manchester Breakfast Rotary Club. Ray was preparing to retire from the John Deere Tractor dealership in town and thought that CASA would be a good volunteer opportunity. Never did he guess that he would be so involved with these children or that another world existed in his own community.
Ray and his wife, Susan, have lived in Coffee County for 45 years, since 1966. Ray and Susan raised their three children in Coffee County. But Ray had no idea that children could suffer at the hands of their parents. He had no idea that people could live a life of chaos and oblivion to the needs of their children. Ray has had to learn, the hard way, the complications and bureaucracy of the child welfare system. The last 10 years have been a real epiphany for Ray and he has answered the call to serve these children every day as a result of his new realizations.
In 10 years, Ray Wood has advocated for 19 children in nine families. He has logged well over 3,000 volunteer hours and close to 10,000 miles on his car. His CASA kids range in age from 0 -- 18 with abuse ranging from medical neglect to physical abuse to sexual abuse.
Most recently, he has advocated for teenage boys who have had drug problems, mental health issues, and failing in school. He provides guidance and direction to these young men, showing them that they can finish school, find a trade and become successful, productive adults. These young men struggled, but they are completing their education. They are behaving and finally have hope for a future.
Ray has had some of the toughest cases in Coffee County and he has tirelessly walked every step of the way to be sure that each child had the best possible circumstance. His CASA kids call him 'Papa Ray.'
Ray has always been creative in fulfilling the needs of his CASA "kids" in that he spent time with the children and families and searched for the necessary resources. One of his earliest cases was a 4-year-old boy and his infant brother. For the sake of confidentiality, we will call them Austin and Jeremy. When they came into state custody, the 4-year-old Austin could not hear; he was not potty-trained; and he, of course, could not talk. Austin weighed 65 pounds. Despite all the efforts of the early intervention specialists, Austin's parents never got him hearing aids or help.
Jeremy, the infant, after being bathed by the DCS workers, still smelled "like a French fry." These children had lived in such a bad environment that it took days for them to smell clean. Ray worked with the pre-school program and the school system to be sure that Austin got hearing aids as well as both speech and occupational therapy because the child could not even hold a crayon. These boys have since been adopted, and "Papa Ray" continues to visit them and be supportive of their family.
The stories of Ray's accomplishment go on and on. He's obtained GED training for parents as well as teenagers. He has found creative ways for single dads to provide day care for their children in accordance with their work schedule. When a developmentally delayed teenager was out of school for the summer, Ray found a variety of activities that would keep him busy and out of trouble.
He has spent hours and hours correcting child support records that were inaccurate and submitting them to the authorities. Many times, he travels more than two hours to stay in touch with his CASA kids. He tracks their progress in school. Ray also fulfills the program director's dream -- he documents every action he takes on behalf of his CASA kids and submits detailed notes to the CASA office weekly.
Ray is a member of the First United Methodist Church, where he has held leadership positions on the staff parish committee. He also sings in the choir and is a member of the Handbells Ministry.
He was awarded the Book of Golden Deeds Award by the Manchester Exchange Club in 2005 as a result of his CASA work.
He is also a long-time member of the Manchester Breakfast Rotary Club. His membership with the Rotary Club has been the primary reason that the Club has donated $500 to CASA every year for 10 years.
Ray was one of the first CASA Volunteers in Coffee County. He was a pioneer. When he would go to a school, a mental health facility, or any other service provider, he would have to explain what CASA is and how the court appointment gave him the authority to ask questions on behalf of a child. Now, after 10 years, CASA Volunteers are welcomed into every area of the community. They know what CASA is and they value what CASA does for children. The quality of the CASA reputation is because of Ray Wood and all the CASA Volunteers who have followed in his footsteps.
Ray truly believes that he is spiritually led to do his CASA work. Indeed, most of us in CASA are mission driven to serve children. Being a Christian, Ray has heard many sermons and Sunday School lessons that confirm that he is "supposed" to do CASA. As a result, Ray Wood is committed to the mission of CASA forever.