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Kids Need You Have a Heart – Make a Commitment 12/25/17  12/26/17 11:10:24 AM Printer Friendly VersionPrinter Friendly Version

Two little girls became fast friends at a CASA Christmas Party when they both received princess dresses – which they immediately donned right over their clothes.

Kids Need You
Have a Heart – Make a Commitment

By Lorraine Boyd
The Daily Record

Imagine being a child who is scared and alone, with no one to turn to. Imagine that it’s the Christmas season and there are no decorations, no presents, no list for Santa.
Because for you, there will be no Santa. If you did write a letter to him, you would ask him for the time and attention of a friend, someone who would care enough to help you improve your life and give you hope for the future.
Currently there are 66 children in Douglas County on the waiting list for such a friend, an advocate – a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) volunteer.
CASA has more than 200 volunteers who served the needs of more than 450 children this year, more than 70 children more than last year.
A CASA is a trained volunteer, sworn in as an Officer of the Court and appointed by a judge. The CASA is appointed to speak up for a foster child (or children), during the time that they are under the jurisdiction of the Juvenile Court as a result of abuse or neglect situations. It’s a two-year minimum commitment.
There are currently between 1,300 and 1,400 children in foster care in Douglas County. Many of them need a CASA volunteer and to fill that need, CASA needs to add 200 more to the 200 community members who are now sworn volunteers.
“We hope to have 250 to 275 CASAs by the end of next year,” Executive Director Kimberly Thomas said. “We have 23 new volunteers starting in January. We have a goal of eventually serving 900 to 1,000 cases,” Thomas said.
Thinking it couldn’t be you? Oh yes, it could. No special background or education is required to become a CASA volunteer. CASA encourages people from all cultures and professions and of all ages and ethnic and educational backgrounds to volunteer.
“The foster system is built around reunification (and closing cases as quickly as possible). But that is not always in the child’s best interest. Sometimes the parents are not really ready yet. Some kids have more than four placements, with different case workers. Some cases remind me of ‘Groundhog’s Day.’ The same situation, the same outcome. The kids suffer. We provide consistency for these children,” Thomas said.
“Our volunteers may never know the impact they have on children’s lives. Often the fruits of their labor are not seen until later. We owe them a big thank you.
“If someone is interested in making an impact on a child’s life, I can think of nothing better than being a CASA.
“We welcome everyone. We have a very supportive staff who will teach you what you need to know. All you have to have is a big heart.”
If you want to learn more about becoming a CASA Volunteer, you can attend CASA Coffees on the first Friday of each month or CASA Cocktails on the third Thursday of each month.  To see where the next CASA Coffee or CASA Cocktail will be held, visit the website at www.casaomaha.org.
If you would like to meet with the recruitment coordinator, find “Learn More about Becoming a CASA Volunteer” on the website and complete the contact form or reach out to Deanna Wagner, Recruitment Coordinator, at dwagner@casaomaha.org or 402-932-5683 ext. 105.
CASA Leadership
“The thing that attracted me to CASA was their focus on children.”  Bruce Stec answered the call in 2014 when he was coming off another board and was asked to serve on CASA’s board. He now serves as Board President.
“Our volunteers are amazing. They are so needed in the foster system. Our goal is to be able to assist every child in the system that needs a CASA … to have enough volunteers for all of them.”
He noted that CASA has a “great partnership” with the judges and others in the system.
“We have a great board and staff, and of course, our volunteers, who are passionate about serving the needs of children. And we’ve seen great growth, with a continued increase in funding.”
Thomas agreed.
“Our staff is now at 16. Five years ago, we had five staff members. We were operating out of a room in the Courthouse until 2008, when we moved to our own building at 2412 St. Mary’s Avenue. We now have a $1 million budget.”
Here’s what a couple of CASA volunteers had to say:
Barb Shoemaker
Barb Shoemaker has been a CASA for 14 years. One of her cases lasted over seven years, until the girl aged-out at 21. While CASA clients are no longer represented after age 19, they can go to Bridge to Independence from age 19 to 21, as her young charge did. It was a difficult assignment, which included a stay at Boys Town and mental health issues. Still, Barb stuck with it.
“She had my number memorized. I was the one constant in her life.”
She now serves a family of five little kids, working to get them back to their mom and dad, if that is the best situation for them. “Frequently you work with the parents as well. Often it’s hard for the parents to talk to the social worker or a guardian ad litem, but you can provide a more non-judgmental sounding board.”
She said potential volunteers should be doing it for the right reason – the kids, not their personal satisfaction. “If that comes too, great.”
“I enjoy advocating and finding ways to help them get the help they need. You sometimes have to be creative, even investigative. You help them navigate through the system.
“CASA has always been a good thing for me. I wanted to make more of a difference. I wanted to give back to society.” She was working part-time when she started, then quit to take care of her ailing father.
CASA “fills in the holes” in the system, she said. “You are on the front line. I call it being in the trenches. You get close to the families, which is sometimes intense.”
Cassie Jetter
Cassie Jetter has been a CASA for about eight years. “I started in my twenties, then took a break to get married and have babies. I’m now 32 and I rejoined a few years ago. Then and now, I am in it one hundred and fifty percent!”
Cassie has 8-year-old and 5-year-old daughters and she substitute teaches.
Her daughter, who is in the third grade, recently had an assignment to write a request for something.
“Her teacher contacted me and told me that out of the 25 students, my daughter was the only one who didn’t ask for something for herself. Her wish was that all foster kids get presents for Christmas. I guess what I do is rubbing off on her.”
Cassie believes in teaching children about those in need. “It is so important. Kids are sponges. I tell them you never know what kind of situation others are in. You need to help.
“Being a CASA is a commitment. Your heart has to be in it. But it is true you don’t need any special skills. CASA will teach you what you need to know, so you shouldn’t be afraid to volunteer.  If you are looking to give back to kids and if you can give the time, you should do it. If you don’t have the time, but can donate, that is still a way to directly help.
“The joy you get from knowing you’ve helped is a big deal. We take it for granted we’ll be in the same bed each night. These kids don’t.”
CASA is often the one constant in a kid’s life, Cassie said.
“The case I’m on now is such a success story. There are four kids, which was a lot to take on. Two of them have gone back home to their mom. Two are still an open case. This is why I do this. And my role lets me work with the mom as well, to build a relationship and trust.”
She summed up her experience: “It’s a commitment, but it’s so worth it!”
YOU can be the difference in a child’s life.
Merry Christmas!

CASA Christmas Party
CASA throws a Christmas party every year for the children. Because of the size of their offices, they have had to split the party into two groups on two days.
This year, Thomas said, they rented the Children’s Museum so that one big party could be held. It will be on January 6, 2018.
“We’ve had a lot of support this year. We’ll have food and gifts and lots of fun.”
Every kid walks out with a board game and a $10 gift card, she said. Some angels like Electrical Contractors and Wynn Transport Service “supplied enough money and gifts to make that happen.” When we spoke to Thomas, she and the staff were busy wrapping presents, a huge task.
If you want to add to the gifts, you can visit their website at www.casaomaha.org/category/wishlist.

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