My neighbor Bob believes that every child should have an opportunity for happiness.
My neighbor Jane, who spent her career working with children, saw so many who needed an advocate in life.
My neighbor Maureen is willing to step out of her comfort zone to fundraise for a cause she truly believes in.
All three found an ideal outlet for their desire to help children in CASA of McHenry County, an organization that provides volunteers to advocate for abused and neglected children in the court system.
All three of them are extremely busy. Each is active in our neighborhood and is involved in multiple ways in Woodstock. Yet they happily donate about 10 to 15 hours per month to CASA. To find out why they are so passionate about this cause, I asked them to sit down and talk with me. Here is some of what I learned.
Court Appointed Special Advocates of McHenry County is part of the national CASA program that was created in 1977 by a Seattle judge. His goal was to ensure that any child in the court system has a voice to provide an accurate picture of his wants and needs.
CASA volunteers, who must be at least 21, are thoroughly screened before being accepted into the program. They receive extensive training in the beginning and ongoing support from case managers and in-service programs as they serve.
“We are the eyes and the ears of the court,” Jane explained. The CASA visits with the child, observes parent/child visitations, researches records, and interviews people involved in the child’s life, including teachers, doctors, therapists, and foster parents. The CASA submits objective reports to the judge and attends court hearings.
Each CASA works with just one child at a time. Often he or she is the one stable adult in the child’s life. Their relationship with their child can last for years. For example, Jane was with her first case from the time the child was 8 months old until she was adopted at age 3. During that time, the child had five different caseworkers.
And how does an 8-month-old end up in the court system? Bob stresses that the children are there through no fault of their own. Some enter the system shortly after birth if they were exposed to drugs prenatally. All are experiencing some type of abuse or neglect.
Bob said, “You see some bad stuff, but you also see some beautiful stuff. You see the resiliency and the strength of the kids. And you know you are making a difference.”
In McHenry County, CASAs are currently working with 106 children, and there is a need for more advocates. Children fortunate enough to be in the program spend less time in foster care and are more likely to find a safe, permanent home.
CASA receives no government funding. Its expenses are covered through fundraising, private donations, and an occasional grant. And this is where Maureen comes in.
She did not think that being an advocate would be a good fit for her. So she contributes to the organization as a member of the fundraising task force, which also forced her out of her comfort zone. The group sponsors events throughout the year. Their next one is an April 21 Point of Light Breakfast.
For more information about that event or about becoming an advocate, visit the group’s website at www.casamchenrycounty.org.
The photo below was taken last summer at a CASA fundraiser where Maureen (left), Jane, and Bob all volunteered.
Note: Another Maples resident, Diana, is an advocate for CASA of Lake County, where she lived previously. She will join McHenry County CASA when her current case is concluded. She was unavailable for the interview.