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CASA Event Recognizes ‘Unsung Heroes’ for Children for Past 20 years  09/17/18 12:20:21 PM Printer Friendly VersionPrinter Friendly Version

CASA Event Recognizes ‘Unsung Heroes’
For Children for Past 20 years

By Scott Stewart
The Daily Record

Many adults can have an interest in a child caught up in the foster system. Biological parents, foster parents, lawyers, judges, caseworkers and other professionals – they all bring their perspectives to determine what’s best for a child, and they don’t always agree on how to proceed.
That’s where court-appointed special advocates make the difference.
CASAs are volunteers who get to know the child on a personal level while meeting with the various professionals and interested parties to the child’s case. They make recommendations to the court, and they stay with the child until the case is resolved or the child ages out of the welfare system.
Sometimes, they stay even longer, as young adults served by CASAs want to maintain their relationships with that trusted adult who has provided steady advocacy for them.
“We have decided that we will stick with them,” said Kimberly Thomas, executive director of CASA for Douglas County, which recruits, screens, trains and provides support to the CASA volunteers.
Douglas County celebrated its 20th year of CASA volunteers helping children with a special tribute September 13 at Kaneko, 1111 Jones St. “Unsung Heroes” was a low-key social hour where the public could meet CASA volunteers, offering a behind-the-scenes glimpse at how they serve children.
“Our primary purpose is to advocate and be that voice for the child at the table in the courtroom, making sure that the wants and needs of that child are being met within that broader system,” CASA volunteer Angie Siebert said.
Siebert said she was looking for a volunteer opportunity about a year ago, and she heard about a CASA Cocktails event where the public could meet with staff and volunteers. She showed up and instantly knew that being an advocate was the right fit for her.
“There’s a lot of engagement in this type of volunteering,” she said. “This isn’t an in-and-out type volunteering.”
CASAs have to bring some emotional capacity to their work, as they can see and hear hard things and the outcomes don’t always go the way they want, Siebert said. The staff is passionate and provides support, but the volunteer experience can be intense.
“This isn’t a perfect world,” she said. “You sometimes have to go home with big, heavy stuff on your heart, and I think that’s important for people to know going into it.”
Children in the foster system are assigned a guardian ad litem, but only meet with them a few times a year. With hundred of children in the system in Omaha at any one time, CASA volunteers help bridge the gap by investing their time and emotional labor into fully understanding the situation.
“We try to bring the kids to the forefront,” Thomas said. “We think that kids are kind of the victims of this system. They’ve already been removed from their homes, so they need a little bit more attention. That’s really our goal is to just make sure that we have people who are invested in children and are living in the communities that they live and where these kids are going to grow up.”
CASA volunteer Cliff Shelton said he will learn as much about a child as he can, spending time in their foster home as well as out in the community. He said he wants to know what makes the child happy, angry, frustrated or triggered, which can help determine whether reuniting a child with their parents is the best outcome or whether another goal should be pursued.
Shelton said he’s volunteered in the past with mentoring organizations, but being a CASA provides him an opportunity to go further – “truly advocating” for a child, which he discovered is “more rewarding than I could have imagined.”
“I couldn’t ever imagine not being a CASA from here on out,” he said.
Unsung Heroes began with a VIP reception for sponsors followed by a general reception at 6 p.m. The program att 6:30 p.m. was  followed by networking, an open bar and heavy appetizers.
Attendees explored Kankeo, which features an interdisciplinary art exhibit “Reality.”
Recognized at the program were Separate Juvenile Court of Douglas County Judge Douglas F. Johnson; founding CASA for Douglas County Executive Director Nancy Wilson-Hintz; former CASA board member, volunteer and CASA Service League member Kay Lynn Goldner; CASA volunteers Russell Hobson, Octavia Carr and Michaela Skogerboe; and former CASA youth James Barton.
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