WV Highlights the Work of VISTA Members

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Release Date: 
Friday, October 1, 2021

Guest post by Shantih Kleen

Every month since Cara and I started service at WV Public Defender Services (PDS) last October, we received the West Virginia Department of Administration’s “Quotes, Notes, and Anecdotes” newsletter. The newsletter has highlighted our supervisor, Stephanne Thornton, as the department’s employee of the month, and always has department news, birthdays, and a question of the month. Especially when working remotely, I enjoyed reading through the newsletter as a way of getting a feel for state government and the state of West Virginia. Earlier this month, I was surprised and very excited to see Cara’s picture and an article about her in the September newsletter! Our supervisors at PDS have been appreciative and supportive of our work throughout the year, and this article is a great example of that. Read what Stephanne Thornton (Criminal Justice Specialist at PDS) and Dana Eddy (Executive Director at PDS) had to say about my wonderful co-VISTA below:


PDS’ Netzer Brings Extra Focus to Social Work


The field of social work is an integral part of indigent defense, and a new employee of Public Defender Services (PDS) will help spotlight its importance within the office. Cara Netzer is continuing her work as a member of the National Legal Aid and Defender Association’s (NLADA) Defending Communities in Service VISTA. 

AmeriCorps VISTA is an anti-poverty program that provides full-time and Summer Associate Service members to nonprofit organizations and local agencies that serve low income communities. Netzer began her VISTA member year in October 2020. PDS has extended her an offer to become a full-time employee when her year ends. 

Netzer moved to Charleston from Frederick County, Md., after being selected for the Charleston Roots program as one of 12 applicants out of 150 who applied. The Charleston Roots program seeks to attract people to West Virginia for relocation and employment, providing mentorship and networking opportunities to encourage new residents to stay in the state. 

“Cara is proof that our future is in great hands and is very promising,” said Dana Eddy, executive director of PDS. 

Netzer supports PDS’ Public Defender Corporation Resource Center in reaching out to West Virginia Schools of Social Work to make students aware of opportunities for social workers in the criminal legal and indigent defense field; raising awareness of social work students about holistic defense; and training practicing social workers in mitigation so they can support indigent defense attorneys in their work. She also helps with building capacity for and expanding social worker opportunities elsewhere across the agency, including through attorney trainings and creation of a mitigation specialist job board.

In June 2021, Netzer co-presented with Stephanne Thornton of PDS and two defenders from the Missouri State Public Defender Office at NLADA’s virtual Community-Oriented Defender Network Conference. The presentation, “Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way! Building Social Work and Holistic Defense Capacity in Your Office,” focused on ways in which PDS has trained social workers in West Virginia as mitigation specialists and created the public defender peer recovery coach program to promote holistic defense in Public Defender Corporations across the state. 

Netzer has been integral in helping redesign the PDS website and, with another VISTA member assigned to PDS, worked to develop a robust set of resources available on the redesigned website to address the indigent needs of criminal defendants and their families, as well as the re-entry needs of defendants.

Netzer is a 2020 graduate of Haverford College in Pennsylvania with a degree in sociology.


A guest post by Shantih Kleen, about her fellow VISTA member, Cara Netzer