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Mitch Albom, author of “Tuesdays with Morrie” said: “Devote yourself to your community around you, devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.” Our CASA Volunteer featured this month, Nancy Otto, got this message instilled in her at an early age, not by Mitch Albom, but rather by her parents, who, by example, taught her and her siblings the need for and the value of service as a way of life.

One of seven children born and raised in LaGrange, Nancy left home armed with a degree in biology from Sam Houston State in Huntsville, and headed west to San Francisco to accept a job with San Francisco General Hospital. After 15 years there, on a whim, she decided to send her resume to MD Anderson Cancer Center here in Smithville. She got the job and moved back home. Fast forward to the present – she is married, has one daughter who is working as a teacher in San Antonio through Teach for America (continuing the tradition of service), two step children, three step grandchildren and one on the way!

As an adult, Nancy continued on the path instilled by her parents and volunteered with Young Neighbors in Action through Holy Rosary Catholic Church at Hostyn and worked closely with the LaGrange marching band and band booster club, among other organizations. She admits it came natural to her to work and provide for the youth in her community. Once her daughter graduated from high school, she began thinking about what organization she wanted to devote herself to, knowing time was a bit of an issue during this time in her life because of the work she was doing at MD Anderson.
It was in the Spring of 2014, that Nancy happened to run across an advertisement in the paper for CASA Volunteer training. Although she had thought about CASA on and off for a couple of years, she knew this volunteer position was not something to be taken lightly – that it required a commitment as she would be involved in the life of a child and their family.

But she did commit and four years later, Nancy has run the gamut on cases. She acknowledges that her first case initially threw her into the deep end because she was told it was the worst case of child abuse, and she felt ill-equipped to handle such a case. But, she admits, “once you meet the kids, all the stuff related to the case goes away, because you realize, they’re just kids.” She speaks of a few of her other cases that played out easier – the ones that the children are reunified with their parents, or the children that are adopted by their grandparents because that is what is in their best interests. She confesses sometimes you question whether or not you are making the right decisions, but you do the best you can through prayer, reflection on your past experiences, the facts of the case, and the understanding that all children have the same needs. She lights up when speaking about one of her CASA kids’ adoption day, which just so happened to be on her 6th birthday. Nancy said the little one wanted her to hold her during the proceeding so that she could see up at the bench and be able to tell the Judge it was her birthday. Imagine how that little girl felt when the Judge instructed the entire courtroom to sing Happy Birthday to her! It was a day of celebration on many accounts and one that both her CASA child and our CASA Volunteer will never forget!

Nancy is very proud to work in Fayette County and applauds Judge Steinhauser for his respect of the CASA Volunteer role and the importance he places on what the CASA Volunteer has to say. She stresses being judgmental won’t serve you well in this type of volunteer work as those involved may be doing the best that they can within their limitations.

Without hesitation, Nancy speaks to the work she does with MD Anderson Cancer Center and CASA giving her purpose and meaning and shared she always thought that one day she would return the favor to MD Anderson for saving her father’s life while he battled cancer when she was 17 years old. Currently, as the Supervisor of Lab and Research for MD Anderson, she oversees 15 labs (one of which she initially worked in) that work to “Make Cancer History.” In talking about her CASA work, Nancy recognizes that it takes a village to raise a family and is driven to doing her part, because as she states, “she can’t expect others to do something she is not willing to do herself.” Advocacy Supervisor, Donna Cashion states, “even though Nancy is busy working to help find a cure for cancer, she takes time out to advocate for our CASA children. Nancy brings to the children the hope to rise above their situation by giving direction and choices for their future. Nancy is a true inspiration and offers consistency, reliability and trust to the children she serves. Three and a half years ago, her first case was two teen girls who had suffered abuse by their father for over 10 years. As a village, CASA, CPS and the teen girls themselves worked together to make sure he would never hurt them again. Even though this is no longer an open case, Nancy is still in contact and a mentor to them. Nancy is a blessing to have on our CASA team.”