‘A Gift to Call Their Own’
Patricia Starr Willis’ memorial fund to help Miami County’s abused and neglected children
By Melanie Yingst
MIAMI COUNTY — All Patricia Starr Willis ever wanted was for her CASA kids to have a memorable Christmas complete with a Christmas gift to call their own.
And thanks to the generosity of her friends and family, Patricia Starr Willis’ Christmas wish will continue to provide CASA children a warm and Merry Christmas thanks to the first generous gift of Willis’ trust through the Troy Foundation for years to come.
“Pat only worried about the kids,” said Don Willis. “She always said she wished that there was this magic fund to give the kids anything they wanted. So now, there is this magic fund.”
Don Willis, known for his work with the Troy Community Works organization and treasurer of the WACO Historical Society, shared his late wife’s passion for the CASA/GAL organization. Willis’ wife Patricia passed away on Aug.22 of this year.
Willis said his wife was making phone calls to CASA staff on their way to the hospital so “her kids” would be taken care.
Willis shared how he and Patricia moved around the country, the very first thing Patricia would do was find the local CASA/GAL office. Patricia served as a CASA/GAL advocate for children for more than 23 years in the states of Minnesota and Arizona including her service in Miami County’s CASA/GAL organization for more than seven years.
“She really enjoyed her kids,” Willis said. “Pat was the type to sit on the floor and play with her CASA children.”
Members of the Miami County CASA/GAL organization, Don Willis and Teen Leadership Troy gathered Friday to wrap presents from the CASA Giving Tree for the more than 100 children served by the organization.
Executive director Jennifer Sanders’ eyes welled up with tears as she spoke of Pat’s service as a member of the CASA organization.
Sanders said the CASA Caring Tree was “exactly Pat’s vision” as part of her legacy through her beloved CASA organization.
“All she ever wanted was what was best for her kids,” said Sanders as she wiped away tears. “Her passion for these kids will always live on — she was excellent at what she did and her passion always shined through.”
Being moved around from foster home and family members, Sanders said the gifts are often the only new possessions the children will receive during the holiday season.
“These kids will feel really good to know that people in the community are thinking of them,” Sanders said of the distribution of presents by the 42 CASA volunteers to their appointed children.
Sanders said Willis was often assigned the most difficult cases of abuse and neglect because “we could always count on her.”
Sanders said her reports to the court were always thorough and expressed “her kids” needs. Don Willis echoed the same sentiment, noting Patricia would do her own investigative reporting to challenge the court system if need be.
“She was just awesome, loving and we are going to miss her,” said Sanders, pausing to collect her emotions.
Funding for the presents of the CASA Giving Tree for children from infants to 18 years of age also was made possible through Project G.I.F.T. by Teen Leadership Troy, Battelle & Battelle and the first donation from Willis’ memorial fund.
Willis’ said his late wife was often like a “frustrated lawyer” as she applied her skills to help the children. Sanders said more than 125 children were provided a CASA/GAL this year.
“CASA is the hands and feet of the court and they do what is best interest of the child,” Willis said. “And Pat only wanted what was best for each of her kids. That’s why we are doing this.”
Willis said thousands of dollars have already been raised in Patricia Willis’ memory since her passing in August with donations from friends and family from around the country.
For more information about the Miami County CASA/GAL organization, visit www.miamicountycasa.org.
Teen shares how Patricia Willis’ service as her CASA touched her life
Don Willis shared a Facebook post from one of Patricia’s CASA children she helped when she was a CASA advocate while living in Arizona.
“There are success stories,” Willis said. “CASA helps the children’s voices be heard. These are our kids and we need to help take care of them.”
That philosophy fueled the passion of Patricia Starr Willis to serve the hundreds of children who often are lost or become tangled in the court system.
In the future, Willis plans to use his wife’s memorial fund to pay for special activities for the CASA children. Willis’ vision for the trust fund would pay for extracurricular activities like sports or music programs which foster families or extended family members may not be able to afford for the children.
“The goal here is to know what their dreams are and for them to know someone else cares about their dream,” Willis said of the future of his wife’s fund. “What she really loved was the relationship with the kids. They always stayed in touch.”
Willis shared the following tribute from 16 year-old Aleah Nelson, of Arizona, speaks volumes of his wife’s work as well as the positive influence a CASA/GAL member can have on a child. Aleah and her brother were appointed to Willis in 1999. The children were later adopted by an aunt, according to grandmother Virginia Stone.
The tribute also included a photo collection of Aleah and Pat Willis through the years as her CASA advocate.
One photo includes Aleah as a young child with Pat sitting on the floor playing with puzzle box. Another photo included was Aleah and Pat wrapping presents and putting a bow on a gift.
“I’ve never felt what it was like to lose someone so close to your heart until today. She was like a mother I never had, a grandma, my best friend. She was always there for me, always made sure I was safe and doing well. She was there since day one, always making time to see me. She loved me like one of her own. Thank you for being my CASA. You didn’t deserve to go. R.I.P. Pat Willis, you will always be in my heart, forever, and always. Prayers go out to her family.” — Aleah Nelson, 16, of Arizona
To make a donation by credit card to the Patricia Starr Willis Fund for Abused and Neglected Children, online donations can be accepted by visiting www.thetroyfoundation.org or by sending a donation to: Patricia Starr Willis Fund for Abused and Neglected Children, c/o The Troy Foundation, 216 W. Franklin St., Troy, OH 45373.
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