Dede Howell of Longview grew up in a house with six sisters and one brother.
And growing up in a large family came with a sense of responsibility.
Howell, 48, followed the example of five other sisters and a niece by seeking appointment as a court-appointed special advocate.
The advocates must pass a screening and background check and complete a 30-hour training course and three hours of courtroom observation. They act as the voice of children who have been abused or neglected and have become part of Child Protective Services court cases.
Judge Tim Womack of the 307th District Court swore in Howell and four other new East Texas CASA advocates during a brief ceremony Wednesday at the Gregg County Courthouse. More than 20 people were in the courtroom, including other CASA advocates and family members.
After the ceremony, Howell, who works in property management, drew laughter from her sisters and niece when she said two words prompted her to became a special advocate: “peer pressure.”
On a serious note, Howell said, “I think it is a good cause.” She said her four children are now grown, and she wants to help other children. “I’m super excited.”
Her sisters apparently feel the same way.
“I’m thrilled about it, because it is an issue we all believe in,” said Tesa Wilson of Longview, the longest-serving of the advocate sisters at five years.
Referring to the late R.T. and Eleanor Campbell, Wilson said, “Our parents taught us all about giving to others. We are blessed when we can give back.”
The six sisters, along with the niece, might be the largest family of special advocates that East Texas CASA Volunteer Coordinator Brooke Davis said she is aware of in the seven years she has been on the job. East Texas CASA serves Gregg, Upshur and Rusk counties.
As a special advocate, Wilson said she is involved with two cases to which she devotes fewer than six hours a month. Each case takes anywhere from a year to 18 months, the sisters said.
Sister Lesa Maatouk of Longview said she has worked with Wilson on a case involving four children from the same family.
“I was taking care of three of the kids, and she was taking care of the newborn,” Maatouk said.
The other sisters serving as special advocates are Bebe Church of Galveston and Marian Freeman and Maria Mills, both of Lake Cherokee. Freeman’s daughter, Katie Bridges of White Oak, also is a special advocate.
In addition to the seven women, sister-in-law Sharon Campbell of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, is an advocate, they said. She is married to Joe Campbell, the sole brother in the family.
The addition of Howell and four other new advocates drew praise from Womack.
“I can’t think of a better way to volunteer your time,” Womack told the volunteers.
The other new advocates are David Hitt, Suzanne Blakeley, Ashley Mestas and Jessica Whitehead.