For some, the opening of a new office is a sign of growth, prosperity and bright futures. For others, such as CASA of Trinity Valley, it means there is a need that can only be met by empowering others to reach out and make a difference.
CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) is a non-profit organization that recruits and trains community volunteers to advocate for children in the foster care system.
According to Lee Ann Millender, Executive Director, “the number of children entering the foster care system from Cherokee County has simply exploded to the extent that we must open an office in Jacksonville to meet the demand.”
Millender explained that the CASA program is a child advocacy organization which utilizes volunteers who are willing to connect with a child or sibling group and see them through the foster care system to a safe, permanent home.
So far this year, there have been 56 children removed from their homes in Cherokee County and placed in either a foster home or shelter. For these children, the experience is very, very scary. They are taken from the only home and family they’ve ever known and often placed in other communities; so they are uprooted from their schools and their friends and placed with strangers. They have no idea what the next day will bring. Once in the system, they are introduced to a dizzying array of strangers who make decisions about them and for them – attorneys, caseworkers, judges, therapists and sometimes police officers. It isn’t unusual for children in foster care to be moved around quite often. Because of an over-burdened child welfare system that burns out social workers at an alarming rate, caseworkers assigned to the children change every few months. For the children, the chaos and uncertainty goes on and on.
For a few, though, a Court Appointed Special Advocate is the one constant in their lives; the one person who is focused just on them; the one person who takes time to get to know them, the details of their lives and their hopes and dreams.
“Each of us has a moral obligation to speak up for these children, to make sure that their lives and their suffering is not in vain” added Jean Turner, CASA Board Member. “I’ve only been involved with CASA for a few months but during this time I have attended court hearings and seen the work these volunteers do and it is phenomenal.”
Millender added that the influx of 39 Cherokee County children coming into care since this past July, has left us in a dire need for volunteers.
As Turner expressed, “I have worked with families in difficult situations for over 30 years and the need does not diminish just because time passes or years have been added to our lives. CASA is a unique opportunity to use your own experiences and skills to help a child.”
CASA is hosting an open house at their new office located at 514 E. Commerce Street in Jacksonville on Tuesday, November 23rd from 11:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. Those interested in volunteering are encouraged to come by and meet the staff, volunteers and tour the office.
For additional information you can call the Jacksonville office at (903) 284-6245 or the Athens office at (903) 675-7070.