Giving a child a voice in the often-intimidating atmosphere of a courtroom is the goal of each CASA volunteer caseworker. Knowing that voice makes a real difference is part of the reward.
Jenny Elliott’s first case as a CASA advocate involved a child who had been the victim of domestic abuse. Later on, she’d take a case revolving around a young girl who had been molested by her stepfather.
The circumstances of the cases are often heartbreaking, but CASA advocates exist to serve as a support system solely focused on representing the children involved, providing one-to-one advocacy for abused and neglected children. The hope is each of these children move through the court system smoothly and be placed in safe, loving homes where they can thrive.
“Becoming an advocate was an eye opener for me,” Jenny said. “The staff is incredibly supportive and always available to answer any questions. Sometimes you want to take the children home with you, but the goal is to do what’s best for families.”
Jenny said she’s always moved to tears at the annual CASA Light of Hope Breakfast. Guests hear powerful stories about local families and children who have been served well by CASA.
However, CASA Executive Director Jenny Bender said more awareness needs to translate to more volunteers.
As outlined in a Vision 2020 strategy, Bender and her team hope to double and diversify their advocate base. CASA now serves about 60 percent of the abused and neglected children who need assistance. That means nearly 400 children are waiting for an advocate who will fight for their rights.
More customization of advocate training is one way CASA hopes to grow its number of volunteers.
“We realize that training is basic to the success of an advocate but we need to make it fit into people’s lives,” Bender said. “We need adults of all ages to be advocates.”
The commitment for training has been reduced from 40 to 30 hours, and training options now include a flex training program that is partially conducted online. In December, CASA will offer a two-weekend intensive training program, and a CASA volunteer information hour is scheduled from noon-1 p.m. on Nov. 10 at the CASA headquarters, 701 S. Cascade Ave.
Bender said the agency needs more male advocates and a more diverse pool of volunteers to match the children who are caught up in the court system. She said LGBT youths also need advocates, and all children can benefit from a diverse spectrum of supportive adults.
Bender is also encouraged by the recently influx of young professionals who are seeking volunteer opportunities to give back to their communities.
CASA’s volunteer retention rate is high, at 87 percent. CASA is also an attractive investment for donor dollars. Eight-six cents of every dollar raised goes towards programs, and Colorado residents who support CASA may also qualify for a 50-percent state income tax credit in addition to state and federal income tax deductions.
During the holiday season, CASA invites individuals to donate an honorary gift to honor or to commemorate a favorite teacher or any loved one who provided a positive influence. CASA is also looking to partner with local businesses to aid in serving children, to help break the cycle of violence and to set a positive course for future generations.