Learning to help children: CASA volunteer training begins in September

Monday, August 14, 2006

The annual CASA barbeque coming up Friday at Bavarian Halle in Jackson is an important fund raiser because it clears $24,412 of the organization's $50,980 operating budget. Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), the organization that served 78 neglected and/ or abused children last year, would find it difficult to exist without a successful barbecue.

The group would also find it difficult to exist without the 37 volunteers who serve the children of the 32nd Judicial Circuit.

Training starts soon

CASA volunteers are the dependable, trusted adults who give a child hope for the future. They are appointed by a judge to recommend the best possible outcome for children who are victims of sexual, physical, emotional and verbal abuse, neglect, unsanitary living conditions, parents' homelessness or any combination of the above. Free training to become a CASA volunteer starts Sept. 12 at Dempster Hall, Southeast Missouri State University Room 102. Classes are held every Tuesday and Thursday and continue through Oct. 26. No legal background is required and materials are provided.

Personal involvement

While other individuals involved in a child's case are paid employees who see to the legal issues, personal details in a child's life are often not on the agenda. CASA volunteers are assigned only one case at a time. Professionals involved in making decisions about a child's future are juggling as many as 30 cases.

Volunteer Sue Rees of Cape Girardeau was motivated by a Southeast Missourian advertisement when she made the decision to carve out another slice of her time for children. Rees, a bus driver and a gifted and learning disabled program teacher at the Nell Holcomb school district, already had a lot of her time accounted for. But the CASA program seemed like a much-needed program to her.

She considers the children she transports daily by bus to school as "precious cargo." Picking them up and dropping them off at home gave Rees invaluable insight into their lives, making her realize how important it was to get involved.

Rees began volunteering in February. Her case involved three siblings who were placed out of the home separately. "You get to know your kids. We'd meet some afternoons after school and Saturdays. You get to know a lot of intimate details. They begin to trust you. I'm thrilled to be a part of their lives. They are the heroes for what they've done, how they managed and got back together," she said.

CASA volunteers listen to the children, interview anyone involved in the child's life, and review all judicial, medical, social service, educational and other records pertaining to the child to help ensure their right to live in a safe and permanent home.

"I took care of the personal details," said Rees. For example, parents may not have the resources to line up required necessities for children coming back home. Rees' children needed beds and linens. She called around to churches and arranged to meet the need.

When the siblings in Rees' case were going back home she piled everything into her pickup truck and took it back for them. These are the details often unaccounted for that take place after hours, not on workdays, and are especially important to the child. A treasured toy or an object of comfort that has accompanied a child during an insecure time in their lives may seem replaceable to an adult but can be very meaningful in a child's life.

Supporting children

CASA volunteers are significant to the children because they listen to them, support and encourage them as they encounter situations like new schools, new homes, new friends -- often scary places --as they journey through situations of instability and chaos.

Call the CASA office at 335-1726 or 335-7896 or visit www.capecasa.com for tickets or training information.

cpagano@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 133

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