The largest hurdle for volunteers to contend with many times involves time constraints.
In her role as executive director of CASA for Kids Inc. in Washington County, Carrie Richardson constantly is on the lookout for people who are willing to take active roles in supporting the nonprofit’s mission of advocating in court on behalf of children who have experienced abuse or neglect.
Belief in that mission keeps many CASA volunteers going while working full-time and raising families. Richardson may cite the example of talking with one volunteer whose wife just had a second child.
“He said, ‘I considered giving up my role. But I gave up Facebook instead,’” she told members of the Peters Township-based McMurray Rotary Club, which presented a $1,500 donation to CASA for Kids Inc. during a recent meeting.
CASA stands for Court-Appointed Special Advocates, and those who volunteer for the role to help ensure children are safe, have a permanent home and have the opportunity to thrive.
“We are the eyes and ears of the court system,” Richardson said. “We go in. We investigate what happened to this child. We write a thorough court report, and we try to give the judge the picture of what this child is experiencing day in, day out.”
In Washington County, 56 advocates at this point are serving the needs of 119 children, many of whom are in foster care.
“I’ve had children who have been in 20 placements in five years,” Richardson said. “It’s gut-wrenching. But it happens everywhere. It’s one of those things we don’t like to think about happening down the street from us. It’s happening.”
Along with advocates, she is seeking volunteers for support activities including fundraising, event planning, social media and assisting at the organization’s new office, 382 W. Chestnut St., Washington.
For those who do volunteer as advocates, CASA provides 40 hours of training, after which a case is assigned.
“It is a lot of work up front once you receive your case, because you are going back through and you’re reading years of history,” Richardson said. “You’re getting your hands on any and all information you possibly can.”
She said that probably involves 15 hours during the first month.
“After that, we ask that you see the child once a month. You’re that consistency for this child,” she said. “So we ask that people give us at least a two-year commitment, which is typically what it takes to find permanency for the child.”
Optimally, that means remaining with the family.
“Reunification is priority,” Richardson said. “We always try to return children to their homes, if that’s possible.”
She encourages advocates to engage in activities with youngsters during visits to where they are living, especially working with art.
“There are immense therapeutic properties in art for children. That’s where you get a lot of your information. So if I’m focusing on coloring,” she said about a youngster’s perspective. “I’m more apt to tell you what’s happening in my day-to-day life.”
Jim Mortimer, McMurray Rotary program chairman, said the club is receptive to the art aspect.
“Where these young people can experience doing some drawing, to get their minds away from the stresses of what’s going on, is something that was agreed to in our philanthropy meeting about supporting that cause,” he said.
As is the case with Rotarians, CASA volunteers demonstrate a strong sense of altruism.
“It is a way to give back to the community, which is why I became involved with CASA,” Richardson said. “It’s a way for me to give children a voice where otherwise they might not have a voice.”
For more information, visit www.casawashington.org.