Court Appointed Special Advocates. CASA.
It is an acronym. And, it often presents an identity crisis for our organization, most notably confused with the Spanish meaning for house. How does one explain what we do? Why we do what we do? It is not a sexy topic, in fact, it can be quickly dismissed and the conversation squashed when it is explained that specially trained and screened volunteers step forward to monitor children who have been neglected and abused. It is a taboo narrative - a turn-off.
In order to engage conversation, to inspire others to take a stand, to speak up for those children who have been neglected and abused, it takes a different approach. The narrative needs to move from the dark side of human behavior; away from the negativity and toxicity of family dynamics to asset-based, strength-based positivity.
When asked what I do, I now reply, "We are in the business of HOPE. We are child advocacy built on hope. CASA volunteers act as the child's voice in court and in their schools as education advocates. We are in their homes and in their hearts hoping to find their future story. We advocate for their best interest to ensure a safe and permanent home."
To meet the advocacy needs of our judge-assigned children, CASA must constantly seek to identify and qualify dedicated, responsible, and caring adults to advocate on behalf of the children's best interest. This is an ongoing task for, as volunteers, they come and go at-will. Yet, 2014 was an awesome year for ordinary citizens to step up and meet the challenge. Judge Cynthia Raccuglia, juvenile court judge, swore-in LaSalle County CASA's largest, single class of new volunteers in its history. From the March 2014 class, CASA had 14 advocates sworn-in during its 14th year as a 501c3! That was awesome! Five additional new volunteers joined them in October to end the year with a total of 19 new advocates joining 22 veteran volunteers as friends of the court.
Administratively, CASA welcomed Prudence Halm, a volunteer advocate, and Brittney Salas, a college intern, as part-time, paid staff. They assumed the duties of our data communication coordinator, giving CASA a Facebook presence, facilitating a new website design utilizing the National CASA copyrighted graphics, and maintaining all electronic and hardcopy advocate and case files.
Although our title states special advocates, who is really "special" are the children we monitor. They have experienced, seen, or heard things that children should not have to witness. They are defenseless victims often scarred for life by the trauma. Each has an incredible story. We can only hope - that we can make a difference in their lives and they can create a future story - a new ending within a safe, permanent home.
CiCi Fisher Chalus, M.J.