I am processing loss right now and the best way for me to do it is to write about it. Stephanie Orr was my boss, my friend, and in many ways a mentor for almost 25 years. I first met her in 1997 when I began working for Casa. It is very difficult to imagine a world without her out there fighting the good fight to protect children, mostly, and adults.
When I joined the prevention department at CASA, the name of the organization was still an acronym. It stood for Center Against Sexual Abuse. My roll was to go into schools and talk to children in K-6th grade about how to keep themselves safe from sexual abuse. Stephanie was the Executive Director, and I must admit that I was a little intimidated by her at first. She was the one who signed my checks in the first salaried job I ever had and my first impressions of her was that she cared very deeply about our mission.
We would have monthly all staff meetings and this was where I got to see her in action the most in my first year there. I was always out at schools during the week and didn’t spend a ton of time in the office, so for the first year or so, I didn’t really get to know her, but I was always impressed by how she communicated the message of what we were doing for the community.
In those days, CASA had four departments. There was administration, advocacy, counseling, and prevention. Each of these departments were, to my eyes, thriving. We had about 20 people, for example, on the prevention team and advocacy and counselling were of similar size. When we would all get together, it was a decent crowd. Stephanie could rally us to a cause with ease, too. It was fun to watch.
I got to see a different side of Stephanie at our parties and events. Stephanie loved having a good time and I enjoyed these opportunities to see her really shine. She genuinely cared about all of us and wanted us to be able to do our jobs, but she also wanted us to be able to enjoy some down time with each other and build a team that cared for each other as people, too.
Stephanie understood and appreciated how difficult it is to be on the front lines working with survivors of sexual violence. Whether it was those of us in prevention who were regularly taking disclosures from children about things that had been done to them or the counselors and advocates, she knew that we needed a safe place to come to at the office or when it was time to throw a party. We had a lot of fun at those CASA functions and Stephanie was responsible for much of that.
As my time with CASA went on and I took on more responsibility, I got to work more closely with her. She was always supportive and willing to listen to my ideas. She backed me up and helped me develop my own leadership skills as I eventually became the Director of my department. She was very helpful and, again, supportive as I navigated a rapidly changing world of contracts and grants that paid for our activities.
There was a faction, and I did address this in a previous blog, who wanted her gone. I know from talking to her about those days and the situation how deeply it hurt her, but also helped her be aware of her own shortcomings as a leader. She believed in the mission of CASA to a fault, sometimes, and she did whatever she could to keep the doors open, people getting paid, and children being served. Were things always perfect? No. But things were always about the mission. I will take that to my own grave.
CASA shrank to just a few of us by the time I left in 2008 for the first time. Funding for the work we did was harder and harder to find and our ability to show how we could be sustainable without the funding was harder and harder to prove. Did Stephanie rub some people the wrong way, sure, but I will always believe that a huge part of CASA’s funding issues came from the fact that most people are not able to have a conversation about sexual violence.
Over the years that I was not a CASA employee, I was still in contact with Stephanie on a regular basis, helping here and there however I could. When circumstances arose in 2017 for me to return, I did so with such a happy heart. I loved working for Stephanie because I knew she wanted me to be out there in the classrooms helping kids and worked hard to keep that going.
When you have a boss that advocates for you and sacrifices for you and goes out of her way to tell people how amazing you are, you are going to be loyal to her. I was always loyal to Stephanie Orr and will do everything I can to protect CASA’s reputation (now just Casa, Center for Positive Social Change) and it’s almost 50 years of service to Phoenix and its community. It is the least I can do after so many years of love and support from an amazing woman.
As I sit here and think about the many conversations I had with Stephanie, I am drawn back again and again to how she talked about her daughter, Taylor. She was so proud of Taylor and when she would talk about what she was doing, whenever she would share these things with me, it was always with such a sense of pride and joy and fun. She loved being with Taylor. I cannot express how sad I feel for those who survive her, especially Taylor.
All of the Orr family have always been so kind to me. My heart breaks for them and I sincerely hope they go through this time of transition in peace and with love. Mother, daughter, sister, wife, friend, boss, visionary leader, advocate, and outstanding human…Stephanie Orr will forever be missed. I shall think of her fondly and with love until there are no more thoughts. I miss my friend already.
I hope to see you all tomorrow.