- Associated Press - Monday, November 3, 2014

FORT SMITH, Ark. (AP) - Four children in foster care in Arkansas are among 75 across the county highlighted on the Ultimate Wish Tour website thanks to the determination of a local volunteer.

“She single-handedly brought that tour to Arkansas,” said Denise Basham, a volunteer coordinator for Sebastian County Court-Appointed Special Advocates. “Ruthie just doesn’t stop.”

“Ruthie” is Ruth Dudding, a CASA volunteer for six years, who also volunteers with the River Valley Adoption Coalition, Literacy Council of Western Arkansas and as a sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) at the Hamilton House Child Safety Center.

The Ultimate Wish Tour, which was initiated by the nonprofit organization One Simple Wish, provides an opportunity for people to grant simple wishes, valued at no more than $500, to children across the country in foster care, throughout the year.

The Ultimate Wish Tour visited 15 cities over six weeks this summer, stopping in Little Rock on July 21, granting wishes for four children and highlighting the children on the tour website.

In addition to conducting interviews with Devin, Michael, Tyler and Treyson, who were each granted a wish, the Hasbro Game Co. hosted a game night for more than 100 foster families at a Little Rock church.

Glenda Evans, Sebastian County CASA executive director, said Dudding always goes the extra mile to get things done for the children she represents as a CASA advocate, or any child for that matter, regardless of red tape, distance as most Sebastian County children in foster care are placed around the state, or any other obstacle

“She doesn’t buckle under to anyone . if it’s anything to do with kids, she’s a bulldog,” Evans said.

The “bulldog” began volunteering for CASA six years ago, when the oldest of her and husband Dr. William Dudding’s children moved out of the house for college, the Times Record reported (http://bit.ly/1u07J2W ).

Dudding, 59, was an intensive care unit nurse before she left work to be a full-time mom, where she volunteered for a variety of school-related activities over the years. When the nest emptied, she turned her attention to literacy and neglected and abused children.

As a SANE nurse, Dudding conducts forensic exams of children for evidence of sexual abuse; with the RVAC she helps promote awareness about the need for more foster homes in western Arkansas; and with CASA, she’s assigned to a child (or children) who’s been removed from his or her home due to abuse or neglect and represents the interest of the child.

“I want to stand up for abused children and be their voice,” Dudding said.

Dudding was honored in September for being that voice when she was presented the “Face of CASA” award for Sebastian County at the 2014 CASA Conference in Little Rock. Evans said the annual award recognizes the efforts of a volunteer she and the CASA staff believe has contributed the most to children.

Dudding’s undeterred work to bring the Ultimate Wish Tour to Arkansas was a significant, but was not the singular reason Dudding was recognized.

Nancy Brisher, Dudding’s friend and fellow CASA volunteer and someone Dudding said she looks up to, said reaching out to One Simple Wish was even bigger than bringing the tour to Arkansas. She said Dudding established a relationship with a national organization, and there’s no telling what benefits that can bring to Arkansas children in the future.

Brisher describes Dudding as dedicated, energetic, thorough and knowledgeable.

With her experience, intelligence and dedication, Brisher said, Dudding navigates the bureaucracy and thinks outside the box to get things done for the children she represents.

Dudding said dealing with bureaucracy is the most challenging aspect of her work with CASA, where she’s been assigned to seven children, including one to whom she was appointed not long after she was sworn in as a volunteer and still represents.

Dudding said sometimes the red tape leaves her ready to bang her head against the wall and quit.

“But the kids need you. You’re their voice, you’re speaking for them . we help to keep things from slipping through the cracks,” Dudding said.

Dudding said sometimes CASA is the only constant in the child’s life, because a CASA volunteer is assigned to a case until the child is reunited with his or her family, is adopted or ages out of the foster care system.

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Information from: Southwest Times Record, http://www.swtimes.com/

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