Community Partner Shout Out

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In a time when our economy has been hit hard by what seems to be a never ending pandemic we know that small businesses need our support now more than ever. That’s why we want to recognize the local small businesses that have stepped up to support our mission to provide quality advocacy for foster children so that they may thrive in a safe, permanent home as soon as possible. Each of these businesses work towards building a stronger Southwest Washington community in various ways and we’re proud to identify them as community partners.

Paper Tiger Coffee Roasters

A low-key neighborhood coffeehouse that roasts Direct Trade and Fair Trade coffees from all over the world. You can see (and smell) them roasting coffee in house daily. What’s more – they’ve been recognized for their inclusion work with students from WA. School for the Deaf and the WA State School for the Blind as well as hosting yours truly for a Coffee with CASA event and displaying our information session bulletins.

Giving Group Realty

A group of realtors who take an active interest in their community and causes by donating 10% of the total of each and every commission to reputable charities (like CASA!) of their client’s choosing. Their agents felt the call on their hearts to do something that makes a difference. They’ve donated over $57,000.00 to date!

Davidson & Associates Insurance

Each month, a different nonprofit (including CASA!) is selected by their team to be a “Referral Rewards Partner” in which they use their community networks to bring awareness to the causes that nonprofit partners works tirelessly to support. They give $25 for each referral back to the selected non-profit whether or not the client decides to use Davidson & Associates for their insurance needs.

KXRW

A local values driven-driven radio station that is dedicated to delivering quality programming with an emphasis on local voices. They aim to build a stronger community, based on inclusion, diversity and social justice in Southwest Washington and beyond. Catch their broadcast of The Common Good with our Program Director Sheryl Thierry and Volunteer Mentor Dawn Montgomery to hear the perspective of a volunteer and what working a case really is like.

3 Peaks

A Public House and Taproom providing local hand crafted beers on tap with a great atmosphere that’s known for its great brews and family friendly environment. During warmer weather months you can find the lawn full with bands, yard games and plenty of space for kids to run and play around picnic tables. You may also catch a peak of our yard sign on their grounds!

Fairway Coffee

A family run independently owned coffee shop serving up Stumptown Coffee and just this year celebrated 7 years in business! You can find yummy goodies (including ice cream!) to pair with your morning pick me up. They’re also one of our earliest supporters in hosting a Coffee with CASA event.

If you’re interested in learning more about ways you can partner with us, including participating in our Change A Child’s Story Campaign contact our Outreach Coordinator, Gwen Anderson at ganderson@ywcaclarkcounty.org to get more information.

The Common Good – Part One

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Our fearless Program Director, Sheryl Thierry and rock star Volunteer Mentor, Dawn Montgomery were recently welcomed on KXRW’s The Common Good, in which they showcase the collective achievements that contribute to a positive and well informed community. Host Joe Clemens started by introducing our program as “a volunteer powered network of people from all walks of life who believe society has a fundamental obligation to help children in need” – we couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

“Our job is to discover what that child needs to be successful in foster care,” Program Director, Sheryl Thierry.

Sheryl began by giving a history of our program explaining we have been partnered with YWCA Clark County since almost its conception because there is a very strong connection between the mission of both organizations. Our volunteers are independent advocates for children that come into the care of the state. We are not social workers. We are absolutely independent and our job is to discover what that child needs to be successful in foster care and hopefully reunify with their parent, if not able to do that safely then we find a safe and permanent home for that child as quickly as possible. We focus on the best interest of the child and that’s what we tell the court. Our job is to make recommendations based on the best interest of the child.

After hearing a history of our program Joe asked Dawn to share a bit about what our operations look like in the realm of COVID. Dawn explains that every 30 days our volunteers are used to seeing their kids and checking in with them but because of the pandemic we had to curtail face to face visit in the foster home or the relative’s home or wherever the child is placed. Now that children and advocates are using video calls there is less privacy which leads to children not feeling as comfortable sharing things that are really troubling them. That together with the attention span of kids makes a real challenge to get a quality visit and the type of visit we were used to having with our kids. But the bigger issue is that fewer people are seeing children and so kids experiencing abuse have flown under the radar.

“There are fewer calls coming into hotlines around the country, the severity of the abuse once the children come to the attention of the authorities, usually be law enforcement or emergency rooms, that abuse has become exasperated and the injuries are greater.”

Dawn continues by explaining that the fear is the potential of a flood of kids coming into care after they’re back in school and how that will stretch resources very thin and overwhelm the system. All age appropriate children who are in care and custody of the state should have a voice in court and to have representation in court and that’s what we do, especially now.

Right now we’re looking to expand our volunteer base to communities of color so we better mirror the children that we serve.

Ready to jump in and help? You’re likely just what we’re looking for. Sheryl describes our ideal volunteer as someone who is community minded and has a devotion to children and supporting both children and families. We like community members with different backgrounds both professionally and personally because it’s what brings a unique perspective to the job. Because it takes a typical case two years to resolve we ask for that commitment from our volunteers, someone who is committed and is in a position to stick with it. We also want to ensure that applicants are available and present for our extensive training which amounts to 50 hours over the course of 4 to 6 weeks. Right now we’re looking to expand our volunteer base to communities of color so we better mirror the children that we serve. We really want to pay attention to the demographics of the children and make sure that we can provide perhaps a Spanish speaking advocate if we have a Spanish speaking child for instance. So we’re really trying to reach out to those communities to pull in volunteers who can help us with the children of color who come into care.

All of this just outlines the formalities of what we do. Are you interested in hearing about the cases we work on and the real children and families involved? Stay tuned for our next post or listen to the full broadcast.

Meet Our Everyday Hero, Cyd

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“My greatest joy is when the kids to whom I am assigned proudly call me “my CASA,” and the way their faces light up when I see them.  I know from experience how important that is.”

Cyd has been a volunteer advocate with our program for two years but her roots are deep within the foster community. As a former foster child herself, she knows firsthand the significance of the one-on-one attention a CASA advocate can provide. She explains that foster parents frequently have multiple children to look after and that it’s rare when a child in care receives focused attention. She values her time shared with the children she works with over every other aspect of the job saying, “nothing matters as much as the kids knowing that someone truly cares about only them.”

That’s not to mistake CASA as a mentor position – she breaks down the details of her work including helping to ensure they have regularly scheduled medical and dental appointments, connecting with their teachers and being sure that all resources are explored for extra-curricular activities. In summary, “to contribute to making their lives less chaotic.” In addition to the children she advocates for, Cyd has also invested time in supporting biological mothers trying to get their lives back on track with the goal of reunifying families. This compassionate woman chooses to go above and beyond taking on multiple cases in neighboring Cowlitz County and describes the role as, “the most meaningful work I have ever done in my entire career.”

“If you love kids, want to make a positive difference in the lives of kids that desperately need you, then please please please don’t hesitate to sign up.”

Cyd attributes her confidence as a CASA to the far superior training and administrative support from our local Clark County CASA program. In fact, when researching various programs she felt compelled to relocate to Vancouver to affiliate with our YWCA program. She adds a lack of experience shouldn’t deter anyone from considering the position as our training materials will teach you everything you need to know. Beyond training she’s found that the program is excellent at tailoring assignments to the availability of each CASA volunteer while acknowledging that our volunteer base comes from all walks of life – retirees, full time employees, and parents with children of all ages.

If this inspires you to take action we invite you to join us for a Virtual Information Session to learn more about becoming a CASA volunteer. You are also welcome to contact our Volunteer Recruiter, Gwen Anderson at ganderson@ywcaclarkcounty.org.

Meet An Everyday Hero

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“If you want to make a difference and really feel like you are making a difference, CASA work might be just the thing for you.”- Kelly Crain

Meet an everyday superhero, Kelly.

Kelly has been advocating for foster youth with our program for just over a year; but when he originally sought out to give back to youth in care he thought he may take another path. Kelly shares that after beginning the process to become a foster parent he recognized it just wasn’t a good fit for him. “I knew I wanted to make a positive contribution to the experience of children in foster care,” and that drive led him to CASA.

Kelly holds a full-time job within the education field and yet still feels driven to change a child’s story in foster care. He explains that, “With the attention and support of a CASA, the children know (consciously or subconsciously) that they are important and what they say and feel matters,” and that is the most significant part of his role as an advocate. Seeing his contribution help not only the foster youth he’s working with but also the foster parents and biological parents as they work toward reunification is incredibly motivating.

Not that the work comes without hurdles. Yet when he does have questions or needs a sounding board he turns to the support of his CASA Program Specialist as someone who he describes as always having time for him.

If this inspires you to take action we invite you to join us Wednesday October 7th, at 6 PM, for our next virtual Informational Session. You are also welcome to contact our Volunteer Recruiter, Gwen Anderson at ganderson@ywcaclarkcounty.org.

Introducing CASA Volunteer Kristin Finley!

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Often times we find inspiration from those closest to us. In this instance, our volunteer witnessed the impact her mother had as a guardian ad litem for foster youth. That was nearly 40 years ago but resonated so deeply with her that she knew she wanted to make a difference in the lives of children who needed it most.

Join us in celebrating Kristin!

Kristin has been an advocate with our program for nearly two years and fairly recently experienced the most rewarding aspect within her role as a CASA; witnessing a child celebrate her long awaited adoption. Seeing the child’s immense joy and knowing that she played a part in that happy ending was most rewarding for Kristin. She acknowledges that there is still so much need for CASA volunteers and encourages anyone considering the role to be the difference in the life of a child.

But it’s not just about the end result. This compassionate woman explains that simply knowing the kiddos she supports understand she will be available to listen and to be their voice in ensuring their best interests are represented is what drives her. She’s also encouraged by her fellow volunteers and our staff members. As a new volunteer she felt supported by the thorough training and as a veteran she recognizes that the staff “are committed to making sure their volunteers have everything they need to be the best advocate possible.”

If you’ve been inspired by Kristin’s role as a CASA volunteer we invite you to join us Saturday July 25th at 12:00 noon, for our next virtual Informational Session. You are also welcome to contact our Volunteer Specialist, Cheryl White, at cwhite@ywcaclarkcounty.org.

We Support Racial Equity

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As a program of the YWCA Clark County, CASA adopts this statement regarding George Floyd as our own.

Eliminating racism represents a core value in YWCA’s quest for equity

YWCA Clark County condemns the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, by Minneapolis Police. YWCA supports racial equity and, as such, we applaud the arrests of the four arresting officers. But those arrests fail to address the institutional, structural, and pervasive racism in the United States and in our local community.

Our mission is to eliminate racism, empower women and promote peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all. We recognize that racial justice requires a community effort, and we applaud those in Clark County who advocate for racial justice through their leadership and community involvement.

YWCA partners with the public schools on programs designed to prevent sexual assault and domestic violence. We were deeply disturbed and angered by the extremely insensitive remarks made via social media by former Clark County School Board Member Mark Stoker last week. Mr. Stoker’s remarks—made while he was serving on the board—were in reference to protests in Seattle against Mr. Floyd’s murder. He denied that his words were racist. But he resigned in the wake of rebukes from community members over his remarks.

“We cannot tolerate such insensitive behavior from elected officials”

In a statement addressing Mr. Stoker’s remarks, Jasmine Tolbert, YWCA Clark County’s Vice President of Public Policy said: “We cannot tolerate such insensitive behavior from elected officials. We hope this can be a learning opportunity for Mr. Stoker and the board of education.”

We urge Clark County residents to sign the NAACP’s petition for racial justice

NAACP Vancouver is our strong community partner in our fight for racial equity. Please join us in signing their petition calling for major reforms designed to address racism in the U.S.

The core reforms requested include:

  • Deliberate and intentional Criminal Justice Reform that ensures the protection of Black lives, the expansion of the Home Confinement Pilot Program under the First Step Act, and a reduction in sentence for non-offenders.
  • Expansive student loan relief to include a suspension of student loan payment until the economy gains strength, discharge of student loans for essential workers, and automatic cancellation of at least $20,000 in federal student loan debt for all.
  • Expansion of Medicaid as a short-term measure to cover healthcare for those who are impacted by the pandemic.
  • Federal funding for states to improve election administration and upgrade voting systems that comply with the CDC standard regarding COVID-19.

Meet A CASA Introduces Carla!

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Have you considered volunteering but weren’t sure how you would juggle it along with other obligations? This CASA volunteer has relied on the support of her program specialist to ensure she has a positive volunteer experience that doesn’t impact her ability to work full-time OR train for Hood to Coast Relays!

We’re excited for you to meet Carla!

Carla’s choice to become a CASA volunteer started with her desire to positively give back to her Southwest Washington community. She believes that the more you invest in a community the more it gives back and we couldn’t agree more.

This busy woman holds a full-time position outside of the YWCA so she acknowledges that time is always limited. Yet the flexibility of the staff and the volunteer opportunity itself allows her to feel successful in supporting the CASA program despite a varying work schedule. She also feels supported by the many opportunities for continued learning beyond the thorough on-boarding process. She shares that despite being limited by the hours she has available, “knowing that I’m helping these kids have a voice in a system where they can often feel voiceless means a lot to me.”

As a native Spanish speaker, Carla is also in a position to help families that may not speak English as a first language. This speaks to Carla’s commitment to not only advocate for the child but also being a part of strengthening the family’s ability to care for and protect their children. Given that June is Reunification Month we’re thrilled to see how Carla embodies the goal to reunite children with their family of origin. This is especially significant given that children in the Hispanic community are disproportionately represented in Clark County’s foster care system.

Carla acknowledges that, “being a CASA isn’t always easy, but it is definitely a rewarding role to be in.”

If you’re ready to find fulfillment as a CASA volunteer we invite you to join us Saturday June 27th at 6:00pm, for our next virtual Informational Session. You are also welcome to contact our Volunteer Specialist, Cheryl White, at cwhite@ywcaclarkcounty.org.

CASA Car Parade Reaches National Attention

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It All Started When…

Since April 10th Clark County CASA has been parading by foster homes.  Our goal?  To connect with the children we represent in court. COVID-19 and stay-home orders had prevented us from engaging in our typically monthly visits with these children. We knew that children were already experiencing such a trying time in being removed from their homes and now separated from their peers at school.  Both our staff and volunteers wanted to do something to ensure the kids knew we were there and cared. Inspired by news accounts of teachers driving by their student’s homes our Program Specialist, Laura suggested we create our own parade. Hence, the CASA Car Parade was born!

Then Things Took Off!

We’ve been on five parades all over Clark County and the momentum hasn’t stopped. In fact, it captured the attention of our local news outlets – KOIN 6, KPTV and FOX 12! After sending out local reporters to get a glimpse at what we initiated they elected to interview some of our staff and volunteers. One volunteer summed it up perfectly saying, “It gives them something to break up their day and feel a little special; here’s a parade just for them. It’s a brief light in the day. A good morale booster for the kids, the families, and for us.” We were then excited to see it featured on the National circuit at MSNBC!

WATCH THE VIDEO HERE

From there we captured the attention of our National CASA organization and were featured as a Network Spotlight. With over 950 CASA programs they were inspired by the creative way our local program had been connecting with kids. Of course we were excited by the opportunity to reach a larger audience.  The extended reach brings awareness to our mission to provide quality advocacy in the best interest of each child. Yet the biggest triumph in all of this is not the recognition but the smiles we see on the kids’ faces.  Everyone feels the happiness as we honk, cheer and wave going by.  In a time that can feel overwhelmingly dark, we are proud to share some light.

Meet A CASA Introduces Mechele!

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Have you ever wondered who becomes a CASA Volunteer? Let us introduce you to this hard-working, marathon running woman who is out to be a positive force in our community.

Say hello to Mechele Knable.

When asked to tell us more about how she decided to become a CASA volunteer the first sentence she responded with was, “I have been a CASA for a little over a year, and it has become one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.” Wow!

After feeling bogged down by the negativity she was seeing on social media and on the news she knew that it was time to look for a volunteer opportunity that would enable her to represent a positive force.  Her search led her to the YWCA Clark County’s request for CASA volunteers. That was two years ago and she hasn’t looked back. She details how after going through the interview process she knew she had made the right choice because the organization was supportive, inclusive and overall positive – so much so that she described it as, “a place she belongs.” Although the process can feel intimidating the support she receives from her CASA Program Specialist has allowed her the chance to make a difference in a child’s life that really needs her to be there.

Mechele explains, “When I  walk through the door and get that big hug from the child I am advocating for, and I stand in front of the commissioner and tell them what my recommendation is for that child, I realize I am making that positive difference in the world that I was hoping for when I decided I wanted to do volunteer work.”

If this inspires you to take action we invite you to join us Monday, June 1st, at 6 PM, for our next virtual Informational Session. You are also welcome to contact our Volunteer Specialist, Cheryl White, at cwhite@ywcaclarkcounty.org.

Keeping #EyesOnKids During COVID-19

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In this time of social distancing, we must all work to remain socially close to children. Child abuse and neglect is likely on the rise in the face of this pandemic, as families are put under more financial and emotional stress, but reporting may be down. Children are no longer in the public eye—they are not at schools or daycare, or in other locations where caring adults would be able to spot signs of abuse.

One group of people who speak up for children is CASA volunteers. They work with children in the child welfare system who have experienced abuse or neglect. They meet with children in person at least monthly, advocate for children’s best interests and provide information to judges that helps them make the most well-informed decisions for each child.

These in-person visits provide an opportunity for CASA volunteers to ensure the child is safe and well-cared for. But right now, meeting in person with the children they advocate for is difficult or impossible. This means it is harder for them to gauge what is going on in children’s lives, and their needs.

Staff and volunteers at Clark County CASA are finding creative ways to continue to meet with children. We’re continuing to connect with our kids with weekly car parades. Our staff and volunteers have come together to decorate their personal vehicles and drive by the children’s homes to bring a sense of joy during these bleak times. We’re also hosting visits virtually, utilizing Zoom and other meeting platforms to ensure we can engage with children.

This kind of creativity is what will make a real difference in children’s lives right now. It is the kind of creativity that people in all sectors of society are demonstrating.

If you are willing to get involved in a life-changing and sometimes life-saving  cause—the safety, health and well-being of a child—join us in speaking up for a child at this time of community crisis. When the world re-opens, the need will be greater than ever.

  • Those who want to change a child’s life as a CASA volunteer can use this time to learn more about the children we serve and to take advantage of our virtual information sessions that are being held five times this month. You can find the dates and registration information by visiting our website at: https://casaclarkcounty.org/casa-information-sessions-2/.
  • It’s up to all of us to make sure children are safe. Here are some resources to learn more or report suspected abuse or neglect:
    • If you suspect a child is in immediate danger, contact the police or 9-1-1.
    • To report suspected abuse or neglect, contact 1-866-END-HARM (1-866-363-4276). You can also contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline via text, phone or online chat, to report abuse or if you are afraid you might hurt someone – https://www.childhelp.org/childhelp-hotline/.
    • For information on preventing abuse, visit the website of Child Abuse America at https://preventchildabuse.org/.
    • For information on the CASA/GAL program and on the effects of child abuse or neglect, visit the National CASA/GAL Association for Children’s website at https://nationalcasagal.org/.
  • If you are a parent or caregiver who needs support, contact the National Parent Hotline at 1‑855‑427‑2736 or go to https://www.nationalparenthelpline.org/what-we-do