BEDFORD --- Lisa Hall is hoping to win $100,000 - not for herself, but to help give many New Hampshire children a voice.
To win, Hall needs your vote. Soon.
Hall is a volunteer with CASA - Court Appointed Special Advocates - which is appointed by judges to handle cases involving abused and neglected children. As a volunteer, she works with children and completes training on court procedures, substance abuse, addiction, child development, social programs and mental health.
Also a big auto-racing fan, Hall, of Bedford, is one of four national finalists for the Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award, named in honor of NASCAR Foundation Chairman Betty Jane France and presented to a volunteer exemplifying France's ideals through philanthropy and community service on behalf of children.
NASCAR selected the finalists, but online voting by fans - at NASCAR.com/award, with a deadline of this Thursday at 11:59 p.m. - will determine the winner. In addition to voting, visitors to the site can watch videos about each finalist. Voters are allowed to vote multiple times but only once per day.
The winner will be announced Friday during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series awards show in Las Vegas.
Time is short, but the case for Hall is strong. For 10 years, she has dedicated her time to help improve the lives of many children in New Hampshire.
"In one of our first training sessions, I remember they asked us to write down what we hoped to gain from CASA and what we were most worried about with CASA," Hall recalled. "I wrote down that my biggest worry was the possibility of visiting parents who were incarcerated. When our training period was over, my CASA supervisor called me and told me she had a case for me, and the parent was incarcerated. I was so nervous visiting the prison for the first time. However, I remember the visitation was nothing like I thought it would be. Fast forward 10 years later, and I can't imagine doing anything else."
Susan Schroeter, a Stratham resident and director of strategic partnerships for the National CASA Association, believes Hall deserves to win the award.
"Lisa's volunteer work literally changes the lives of abused and neglected children for the better," Schroeter said. "She is an inspiration to others to learn about CASA and encourages everyone to give of their time, their hearts and even their wallets - not just in New Hampshire but across the nation."
Growing up in Errol and Pittsburg, Hall learned about the importance of volunteering from her mother at an early age.
"She learned how to give back from my grandfather, who was the most amazing human being I have ever known. He was the type of person that always had a helping hand for everyone," Hall said. "His dad died when he was very young, and my great-grandmother had to farm out all of her children, so my grandfather was basically a foster child before they coined the term."
Hall had raised funds for several cancer organizations, but wanted to provide help directly to children. She looked into becoming a foster parent, but extensive travel as a self-employed consultant in the clinical-research field made that unfeasible. Her encounter with a foster child in the care of her sister-in-law opened her to a new possibility.
"There was one little boy that she took care of whose dad had broken both of his legs, and he was in a body cast. The first time I heard about CASA was through his case," Hall said. "When I heard about CASA, I knew it was something I could do."
Although the job is often difficult, Hall said, it is one of the most rewarding things she has ever done."I learn a lot from these kids," she said. "These kids need someone who is there just for them. Even with all they have been through, their capacity to love and their resilience is amazing.
"After the case closes and the child's plan for permanency is reached, we cease contact with the child so that they can strengthen the bond with their family. It can be hard to let go of the child, but it is a wonderful feeling to know that we changed a child's life for the better."
Winning the NASCAR award would help Hall put CASA on a faster track to help children in need, particularly here in New Hampshire.
"If I am lucky enough to win the award, I've asked that the money be distributed to CASA programs in communities near NASCAR tracks," she said. "CASA of New Hampshire will benefit, as we have New Hampshire Motor Speedway here in Loudon, and it is my home track and it is my favorite track."
According to Hall, the money would be used for three ongoing initiatives: expanding the pool of volunteer advocates; increasing volunteer supervision; and improving program effectiveness through enhanced volunteer training.
Whether she wins the award or not, she said, Hall will continue to volunteer and promote CASA's mission. Her family has been very supportive, she said, and her father plans to get involved after he retires.
CASA is guaranteed to benefit from Hall's nomination. While the winner's charity will receive $100,000, the organizations designated by the runners-up each will receive $25,000.
"This has been an amazing experience, but it has never been about me; it's about the children that need CASA volunteers," Hall said. "There are 77,000 CASA volunteers in the U.S., and each year over 600,000 children are in the foster system. For every child that has a CASA volunteer, two go it alone because there simply are not enough volunteers to go around. My hope is that by raising awareness for this wonderful organization, one day we will have enough volunteers so that no child will go without the CASA they so desperately need."