Posted on Sep 18, 2023

By the time he was 12 years old, Abe O’Bryan was the “man of the house” taking care of his two younger sisters and baby brother.

His mother had left his father hoping to make a better life for herself and her children, but when hard times hit, she turned to making money the way she had learned from O’Bryan’s father, by selling drugs. Abe O'Bryan Attorney and CASA Board of Directors in Radcliff, KY

“It was very unfortunate that my mom had four kids and no high school diploma,” O’Bryan said. “She worked on farms and did all she could to make ends meet and, eventually, did  the things she’d seen my dad do to make money. Unfortunately, that led to some addiction issues for her.”

As his mother’s addictions grew, so did O’Bryan’s responsibilities.

“I would get the food stamps out of the mailbox before my mom could,” O’Bryan said. “I’d walk to the store and buy groceries. It went on like that for a long time because we were still going to school.”

After getting his sisters ready for school and cooking their breakfast, O’Bryan would take his baby brother to a neighbor’s trailer, then he and the older siblings rode the bus to school.

“When we got home, I’d go get my brother,” O’Bryan said. “It went on like that for quite a while, but in a small town, you can’t keep anything a secret very long.”

When O’Bryan’s aunt and uncle, Mike and Barb Grosso, became aware of their nieces’ and nephew’s living conditions, they notified Child Protective Services.

Because the case worker failed to gather enough evidence to prove the alleged neglect, the children remained with their mother.

That’s when the Grossos contacted a Court Appointed Special Advocate or CASA.

Mike Grosso vividly remembers the event.

“When Abe’s mom was struggling to stay above water, Barb told me she wanted to be there for Abe and his siblings,” Grosso said. “We had just gotten married and were fortunate to have some friends who were on the CASA board in Louisville, and they sent a CASA worker to be assigned to Abe and his family.”

The Turning Point in O’Bryan’s Life

“Based on what the CASA volunteer did, the judge ordered us from our mom’s custody and ordered her to rehab, which she did, and ordered us into foster care with family members,” O’Bryan said. “It was devastating to not be able to see the little baby I’d been taking care of.”

Eventually, O’Bryan’s mother was given supervised custody with her mother being guardian, and later, full custody was returned to her.

“She struggled off and on for the rest of her life,” O’Bryan said. “But it never got as bad as it had been.”

After a while, O’Bryan dropped out of high school and got his GED. On his uncle’s advice, O’Bryan joined the U.S. Navy.

“My aunt Barbara stayed involved with CASA for years and was on the board of directors in Louisville,” O’Bryan said. “She and my Uncle Mike were like parents to me and were very instrumental in shaping my life.”

O’Bryan continued about his uncle’s influence.

“Uncle Mike and I had a lot of conversations about where my life was going, and he was adamant that the Navy would be a good choice,” O’Bryan said. “He walked me all the way to the gate at Standiford Field and put me on the plane to boot camp.”

Never planning to make the Navy a career, O’Bryan didn’t reenlist but instead used his GI Bill to pursue what he thought would be a technical degree. However, when his Aunt Barb asked him to speak at a CASA fundraiser breakfast, the event made a lasting impression.

“I went to a thrift store and bought a suit and stood before all the people at the Homestead in Louisville and told my story,” O’Bryan recalled. “When it was over, an attorney gave me his card and said if I ever needed anything to call him.”

O’Bryan eventually went to work for that attorney, paving the way for doors to open at Skeeters, Bennett, Wilson & Humphrey Attorneys at Law in Radcliff.

Immediately following the breakfast, the director of CASA asked O’Bryan to accompany a team to Washington D.C. to lobby for funding, placing him in the presence of high-ranking politicians and offering yet another opportunity to hone his public speaking skills.

“Abe is giving back in so many ways. He is a shining pillar of the community and has become the face of CASA,” Grosso said.

Michelle Kail, executive director of CASA of the Heartland agreed.

“One of the things that I greatly admire about Abe is the fact that he is incredibly insightful and always looking to give back to the community, which he has done with CASA,” Kail said. “Not only does he donate his time and talents to serve on our board, but he is always willing to share his personal connection with CASA to help give back to our organization. CASA is very lucky to have Abe as a board member, and I feel very fortunate to know him.”