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The Franklin News-Post
P. O. Box 250
310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
540-483-5113
Fax: 540-483-8013

CASA celebrates 20 years of helping children
99 volunteers have helped 1,018 children
Click to Enlarge
Staff Photo by Stacey Hairston: The Franklin County CASA program will celebrate its 20th anniversary with festivities on Sept. 24 from 3 to 4 p.m. at the Southern VA Child Advocacy Center. Above, from left, are staff members Emma Beneke, Heather Luther, Executive Officer Joyce Moran, Karen St.Clair and Sandra Bullock.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Since 1993, local community volunteers have been providing judicial advocacy services to children in Franklin County through the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program.

Based on a national model of service, CASA programs are authorized to operate by the Code of Virginia and regulated by the Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS). CASA programs provide judicial advocacy for children identified as being a victim of abuse or neglect, at risk of victimization, in need of services or a child in need of supervision.

CASAs are extensively trained community volunteers, appointed by a judge to speak up for children who are involved in judicial proceedings, according to Joyce Moran, executive officer of the Franklin County CASA program. The role of a CASA is primarily one of an investigator. Information is collected and compiled in a report, including basic case and family history, current family situation, and concerns and recommendations.

CASAs also assist guardian ad litems, a child's attorney, monitoring each case for compliance with the court's orders, and reporting their findings back to the court.

The CASA concept is based on the commitment that every child has the right to a safe, permanent home, Moran said. CASAs generally do not have more than two children or two sibling groups to investigate at a time, and they serve as a mandated reporter of child abuse/neglect.

CASA volunteers collaborate extensively with other local providers to identify and facilitate the provision of services to the children and their families.

Franklin County CASA began its service provision in 1993 as a program under the Department of Family Resources within the county government and was initially called the Rocky Mount CASA program, Moran said. Opportunities to provide the community with additional support services prompted the transition of the CASA program to a newly created non-profit in January 2000.

Since that time, CASA has been overseen by Children's Advocacy Programs of the Blue Ridge Inc. and is housed in the Southern Virginia Child Advocacy Center. Ninety-nine individuals have been appointed to serve as a CASA volunteer to over 1,018 children during the last 20 years.

Volunteering within your community in any capacity is important, Moran said. Volunteering as a CASA provides its own unique rewards and challenges.

"Serving as a CASA is the most rewarding, empowering volunteer opportunity I have found, and it has made a difference in my life," said Linda Wahlberg of Rocky Mount, an 11-year veteran for the Franklin County CASA program. "It is a privilege to advocate in court for children who amaze and astound me with their resilience and bravery as they face the challenges life has thrown them."

"One of the most profound blessings we have within our program is the commitment and retention of individuals who serve in this capacity," Moran said.

Karen St.Clair, director of volunteer services, has been involved with the CASA program since 1995, beginning as a volunteer and transitioning into agency staff; Denise and Orban Gregory have been serving children as CASAs since 1996; Fred Crofts since 1999; June Kingan and Mary Seagle since 2001; Wendie Dungan and Linda Wahlberg since 2002; Sandra Bullock, Judy Reap, Merle Segal and Kathleen Tully since 2005; Don and Susan Jakob since 2007; Rusty and Carol MacMullan, Barb Gemski, Jane Jacobsen and Ellen Servidea since 2008; Emma Beneke, Tom Youngman and Linda Quinn since 2009; Neil Strong since 2010; Teresa Briggs and Linda Marshall since 2012; and Lynne Decker, Michel Kordich and George Moonan since May of this year.

Twenty years of dedicated service is worthy of a celebration, Moran said. Festivities for this accomplishment will take place on Sept. 24 from 3 to 4 p.m. at the Southern VA Child Advocacy Center. Guest speakers will share their reflections of how the program came to be and what it has grown to be. Written recognitions and awards will be presented. Refreshments and agency tours will take place from 4 to 6 p.m.

There are currently 27 CASA volunteers, and more are always needed and welcomed, Moran said. CASA volunteers must be 21 years of age and have effective communication skills. Before becoming a CASA, criminal history checks, child protective service checks, character reference checks, and interviews are all required.

CASAs receive 40 hours of intense training on how to conduct themselves properly and how to be effective in their volunteer work. Volunteers in training also conduct two hours of court observation, and after being sworn in, they are mentored by an experienced volunteer for their first two cases.

Initially, all new volunteers are asked to commit to at least one year of work as a CASA. Volunteers should be able to commit to 5 to 10 hours a month, after new recruit training, and should be able to appear in court as needed.

The first year the program was in operation, volunteers served two children. In 2013, the CASA program provided services to 143 children.

A new volunteer training session begins Oct. 7. For more information, call 484-5566 or email casa@southernvacac.org.

"Our CASA volunteers receive no compensation, other than the satisfaction of knowing that they have made a difference in the life of a child," Moran said. "What a wonderful group of individuals they are!"

 
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