TULLAHOMA, Tenn. — CASA Works, Inc., also known as Court Appointed Special Advocates, is in need of volunteers to work with children who are recognized by the juvenile court as at risk for mental, physical and sexual abuse, or are living in a home where they are not thriving, according to Executive Director Wanda Strayhorn.
“While we are not the Department of Children’s Services (DCS), we do work with them,” said Strayhorn. “We’re hoping for about 50 volunteers. We currently have 14 in Coffee County.”
Seeing past present circumstance
Before becoming a CASA volunteer, Teresa Barber had been a foster parent for over a decade.
“I became a CASA volunteer because I wanted to encourage children to see past their present circumstance and to learn to set goals and dream for a brighter future,” she said. “I had been a foster parent for 13 years when I finally had an opportunity to go through training and carve out the time needed to help these children that were consistently on my heart and mind.”
During her three years as a volunteer, Barber said that she had met some of the most vulnerable, inspiring, resilient, talented, beautiful, and broken’ children that she had the privilege of meeting.
“These children have taught me how to be a better daughter, parent, wife and friend,” said Barber. “When you decide to become part of something that is bigger than yourself and that your contribution will outlast past your lifetime, you realize you are a part of the solution to a very complex problem.”
CASA volunteers get to meet people at a place that is messy, difficult and embarrassing,’ said Barber.
“If we keep focused on the right priorities and remember that every life deserves a second chance or a new beginning, then we are able to part of a new chapter in someone’s life,” said Barber. “At the end of the day, I hope someone can say that I was a bright light in a dark place.”
Interested volunteers must be 21 years or older and go through a background check, said Strayhorn.
“Volunteers also have to complete 35 hours of pre-service training to learn about the law and social service systems, and learn about writing court reports,” said Strayhorn. “While they are supervised by our staff, volunteers are responsible for writing up reports so the judge can further assess if the child needs to be removed from their home situation.”
Volunteers must be able to work an average of 10 to 15 hours a month, said Strayhorn.
“You can make a difference in a child’s life. Men and women from all educational and professional backgrounds are welcome,” said Strayhorn.
CASA Works Inc. is a 501c3 nonprofit organization, with national and state accreditation, said Strayhorn.
National CASA’s mission for a CASA volunteer is to have direct and sufficient contact with a child to carry out an independent and valid investigation of the child’s circumstances, including the child’s needs and wishes.
“Spending time with these at-risk children ensures that volunteers can make sound, thorough and objective recommendations in the child’s best interest,” said Strayhorn.
“CASA volunteers spend hours talking to the child, family members, foster family, teachers, therapists, social workers and all the parties in the case.”
According to Strayhorn, there were over 400 children identified by the juvenile court system who are at risk for abuse last year.
“This program would like to help as many children as possible, but with the lack of volunteers we can only help only 40 to 50 percent of those children,” said Strayhorn.
“Volunteers come from all walks of life. They’re retired teachers and attorneys, as well as full-time moms and full-time employees who are allowed the flexibility to work with the children and go to court for them while still working at their jobs.”
Interested community members are encouraged to call CASA Works at (931) 455-7426, or email at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
—By JACQUI ATKIELSKI, Tullahoma News Staff Writer, Jacqui Atkielski can be contacted via email at <email@example.com>.