The boy, tiny for his seven years, sat quietly in the room with the adults. They were there to tell him he’d be moving — again — to yet another foster home. A new family, new neighborhood, new school, new everything.
Everything except for his friend, Judy Walter. A volunteer with Clark County CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), Judy had been with the child through every move during the past three years. The boy’s brown eyes rested on Walter, seeking reassurance.
“Don’t you worry,” she said. “Miss Judy’s going to be there with you. Isn’t she always?”
The brown eyes lit up. “Yes!” he said.
“He’s tearing at my heartstrings,” Walter said later. “We’re having a tough time finding a final foster home that’s right for him, so he can be adopted. I have been the only constant in his life during this period. And I’ll be there for him until he finds the right home.”
Clark County CASA has been serving vulnerable children as a program of YWCA Clark County for 35 years. The CASA volunteers (referred to internally simply as CASAs) are appointed by the court to advocate for the best interests of children who have experienced abuse or neglect.
Folks like Walter do regular check-ins with the children and families assigned to them. Walter also visits the children at school and speaks with therapists assigned to the family, to check in on progress. And she will stop by to talk to family members, wherever they are living, to reassure them that she is actively advocating for the best possible outcome.
“We write a lot of reports too,” she says, as the CASAs play a critical role in determining where and with whom a child will live.
The CASA Program addresses a critical need in Clark County. In 2018 alone, the program served 835 children. Now, Clark County CASA is in need of community support to take the program to the next level. The goal is to broaden the program’s volunteer base and to strengthen its sustainability, so that no neglected or abused children in the community will have to navigate the dependency system without a true friend and advocate.
Our campaign, Change a Child’s Story!, is a Call to Action for all of Clark County to financially and socially support this incredibly effective and needed service that helps abused and neglected children. Some CASA services were supported by a short-term federal grant that expired this summer. Those dollars need to be replaced. Meantime, the CASA program is taking a new direction.
“We are changing the model to increase our volunteer capacity,” explains Sheryl Thierry, Director of Clark County CASA. “That means shifting more of the advocacy from staff to our amazing volunteers, who are the cornerstone of our program and the best advocates for the vulnerable children we serve.” says Thierry. “Recruiting and retaining outstanding volunteers takes staff resources we currently do not have. We are looking to our community to help us accomplish this.”
The immediate need is $120,000 to cover the cost of two staff positions. Once that goal is met, Clark County CASA will be positioned to expand its volunteer base, seek further financial support, and build a more sustainable program going forward.
Why donate to CASA?
Because CASA’s work is built on community volunteers, and investing in volunteers greatly expands our impact on vulnerable children in Clark County. Our advocates change lives by being there for children who most need an unbiased advocate.
CASA volunteers are assigned to get to know the child, their cultural needs, their physical and emotional needs so they can provide recommendations to the court in making crucial decisions about the child and support safe and stable long-term permanency. CASA volunteers provide consistency for the child and ensure they are placed with relatives or a foster family that is either culturally appropriate or can support specific cultural needs.
Walter’s work as a CASA volunteer earned her Washington State’s Volunteer of the Year in 2017. Far more important to her, though, is the recognition she receives from the children, families, social workers, and court officials who acknowledge the role she plays in keeping vulnerable Clark County children safe — a role that benefits everyone in the community.
CASA volunteers “have to have heart and passion,” Walter says. For the right person, the person with a commitment to children and to community, it can be a life changer.
“All these words describe the experience of being a CASA: Rewarding and frustrating, motivating and discouraging, inspiring and tiring. In the end, rewarding, motivating, and inspiring keeps me going,” Walter says. “When you see a child reunited with the family or adopted by another family, you know you have made a difference. And yes, I cry sometimes.”
To contribute to Change a Child’s Story, please visit our website or contact Brittini Lasseigne, Director of Philanthropy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-906-9123. To become a CASA volunteer, or learn more about the CASA program, visit our website at https://casaclarkcounty.org/ or contact Katie Benzel, Volunteer Specialist, at email@example.com or 360-906-9142.
ABOUT YWCA OF CLARK COUNTY AND CLARK COUNTY CASA
YWCA of Clark County’s mission is to eliminate racism, empower women, and promote peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all. Clark County CASA serves Southwest Washington children and families and is a program of the YWCA of Clark County. Part of the national CASA organization, it is composed of community volunteer advocates who are appointed by the court to advocate for the best interest of children who have experienced abuse or neglect.