THE PERSON BEHIND THE BADGE: SUE IHA

Sue Iha is a self-proclaimed army brat whose family finally settled in Ohio, where Sue attended high school, obtained her undergraduate degree and married her high school sweetheart. Sue and her husband made their way to Texas where she took a position with the Houston Health Department. She was there for a couple of years during the time when the concept of Nurse Practitioner was being discussed in an industry that was at the cusp of change. The State of Texas needed more providers, so she was selected to enroll in the first Master’s Program for Nurse Practitioners, tuition free. So off she went to Texas Women’s University.

For five or six years as part of the educational program, she did an internship in a rural clinic, going in on weekends to work with an elderly physician who was battling health issues. This internship turned into a ten-year partnership. During this time, Sue became active in political and community organizations to help advance the role of the Nurse Practitioner.

In 1986, out of the blue, Sue received a call from a head hunter representing Exxon in Houston, whose Health Division wanted to make a change in their model for efficiency and cost-savings. While employed at Exxon for 19+ years as the coordinator of health services, she also went back to school and obtained her Doctorate in Public Health – with a study in Occupational Environmental Health. While she was at Exxon, her husband got transferred to Austin and they relocated to Bastrop. She racked up the SW Frequent flyer miles commuting back and forth (enough to get one free ticket a week) until she could transition into retirement. She and her husband had a system that worked and she was home every night to have dinner with her family. She says even though her job was 24/7, she was able to see the world and be a part of implementing new operations in countries that had little healthcare in 9-10 years. She eventually left Exxon to work for Chevron until she retired, again!

After retiring the second time, she knew she wanted to do something with her time and had a desire to get back working with children. A friend of hers from high school had moved to Bastrop and told her about his involvement with CASA in San Marcos. After researching it some, she felt it met her need of getting kids back into her life. That was almost two and a half years ago.

Sue’s most meaningful experience as a CASA has been seeing one of her CASA children transform from an angry, defensive, and unhappy boy to a delightful, outspoken, happy child as a result of everyone coming together – grandmother, teachers, counselors – the whole system that worked for him. She said she has seen a marked difference in the child who initially came to her filthy and dirty with no one caring for him, to the self-confident boy he is today.

Sue speaks of the deep appreciation she has for the families and how they manage to get through it all. Her experience in the public health sector has given her first-hand knowledge of how people live and how happy they can be once their basic needs are met.

She comments on how families become aware that CASA is there to help. They understand how the other professionals on the case work within many constraints, but CASA can come in, see the big picture, and take charge – to help create a child that is loved no matter what, who can be successful, and who can feel safe. She knows this first hand, having to answer the “who is going to take care of us?” question from her CASA child at a very difficult time.

Advocate Supervisor, Crystal Justice further explains. “CASA had been dismissed from the case Sue was working on because the children were adopted. The children suffered another setback when the adoptive parent suddenly passed away. Even though CASA was off the case, Sue was the first one they called. She went to the home, comforted and helped the family work through the issues at hand, all while being that familiar, constant person for the children during yet again, another difficult time.”

Tina Smith, Advocate Supervisor who is currently working with Sue, says “she is a calm energy that people can relax around and not feel judged.” Tina speaks of Sue’s history of working with economically challenged families throughout her professional career, gives her a unique capacity to feel compassion for people who are struggling. “Sue has an ability to see past the rough exteriors and sympathize with their efforts.” Tina feels one of Sue’s best qualities as a CASA is that she is always willing to re-evaluate the case and try to look at it with fresh eyes. She doesn’t get attached to her idea of how the case should go – she is always taking in new information and making sure she is making the best recommendation.

In addition to her CASA work, Sue volunteers at the Bastrop Food Pantry, and is on the Bastrop Education Foundation, a philanthropic organization that awards grants to district educators for new teaching strategies, innovative ideas and other initiatives to enhance instruction and educational opportunities, and also recognizes exemplary “rising star students” and educators.

When she’s not volunteering, you can find Sue practicing yoga at The Colony, fishing or in her garden. It does not surprise us that she claims, “she likes to see things grow.” After all, she has been planting seeds of hope within all CASA children she has served.