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CASA bids farewell to Linda Osmundson

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Supporters, members and employees of Community Action Stops Abuse celebrated the end of a 26-year road for their now retired executive director, Linda Osmundson.

Gathered in the St. Pete Museum of History’s ballroom, more than 125 friends and colleagues took turns sitting next to Osmundson and thanking her for her service and commitment to the community.

“It’s the best hire I’ve made in my 50-year business career,” said former CASA Board of Directors President Rick McCollum of his decision to hire Osmundson in the 1980s.

Seated in the center of the room wrapped in a burgundy shawl, Osmundson rarely got up. The bandage that has long covered her face after a growth slowly took over her left cheek now covered nearly the entire side of her face. But it didn’t stop Osmundson from interrupting well-wishers with bouts of humility.

St. Pete City Councilmember Jim Kennedy, who was on the CASA board from 1992 until 2007, joked that she “made it up as she went” in reference to the agency’s Peace Breakfasts.

“I stole that from The Spring,” said Osmundson.

Osmundson’s retirement was effective June 30. The timing coincides with the opening of a new 100-bed shelter that will drastically expand services in the community.

“We’re hoping that we now don’t have to turn 1,400 women away,” CASA board Vice President Gaelynn Thurman said.

Osmundson took the helm at CASA after being wooed away from a program in Gainesville. Back then she oversaw a staff of just seven working out of a small home. Under her leadership CASA is now operating with a staff of 80 employees with transitional housing and an outreach center in Downtown St. Pete and the newly opened shelter.

Under Osmundson’s leadership CASA began a 14-unit transitional housing program in 1997 and the Peacemakers Program for preschool and middle-school students. She also co-founded the state’s clemency movement for battered women. Under that program, women who were incarcerated for violent crimes in which they were just trying to defend themselves had a way to seek pardons for their crimes.

The clemency movement led Osmundson to be awarded with the governor’s first “Peace at Home” award.

“Because of her visionary leadership not only will we have a new shelter serving over 100 survivors but also programs that prevent the cycle of abuse for generations to come,” said St. Pete City Councilmember Amy Foster. “Linda is a true collaborator and servant leader and has made an indelible mark on countless organizations in the city of St Pete and the State of Florida.”

Her outreach didn’t stop at victims and their families. Osmundson also worked with law enforcement to ensure officers were properly trained on dealing with domestic violence.

“We look at the big picture, not just what’s right in front of us,” said St. Pete Police Chief Anthony Holloway.

He said Osmundson provided tools to help officers understand victims and know what to look for. CASA even provided a video tutorial.

“It teaches us to use our eyes and look around the house – there’s a broken glass in the corner, how did that get there?” Holloway said. “She made us sharpen our investigative skills.”

Osmundson also proved to be an expert fundraiser. In 2000, the annual Peace Breakfast raised $200,000 with no match and had the highest attendance ever with 780 people joining.

“Whatever the challenge was, whether it was how to meet payroll, how to raise money or an individual or a victim, that challenge was always met,” Kennedy said.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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