By Ann Leach
As a court-appointed special advocate (CASA) in Jasper County, Missouri, Lauren, a CASA volunteer, helped her assigned teen apply for college and then tour the campus. Volunteer Stacy attended court with her assigned children to help calm their anxiety about testifying in court. And volunteer Jana helped her assigned kids cook dinner and make a chocolate pie for their foster family.
Jasper County CASA provides compassionate volunteers who advocate for abused and neglected children.
“We recruit, train and supervise volunteers from our community to serve as advocates for children in foster care in Jasper County,” Development Director Kelly Hartley said. “A court-appointed special advocate, or CASA, is appointed by the court to represent the best interests of a child or sibling group. They get to know the child by showing up consistently, spending quality time and building trust. Many CASAs bring their kids to the CASA house, which was designed to be a place where they will be heard, motivated, believed, inspired, safe and loved. CASAs show up, stand up and speak up for children.”
Over 150 volunteers have served 350 children since the local program began in 2019.
A locally governed non-profit serving the 29th Judicial District, Jasper County CASA relies on donations to support the CASA house and various programs for children throughout the year. Founded by Debi Koelkebeck, who first served as a CASA in Newton County and saw the difference advocates were making, knew it was needed in Jasper County, as well. She formed a board of directors in 2018 and began training volunteer advocates in January 2019.
“We’re hosting a lovely evening Nov. 10 called A Home for the Holidays,” Hartley said. “This is one of our big fundraisers and this year, it will be held at the Cornell Complex and will include dinner, dancing and a live auction to kick off the holiday season. Tickets can be purchased through the CASA website at www.jococasa.org.”
Hartley hopes the event not only raises funds for the local CASA program but also raises awareness of the need for more volunteers to work with the children.
“Our volunteers are called to serve children who have been taken into state’s custody due to situations of abuse or neglect and sometimes both,” Hartley said. “Many of the children have experienced trauma and have never had a consistently responsible caring adult in their life.”
Getting those volunteers trained and ready to serve happens at the CASA Training and Connection Center. “It takes funding to recruit, train and supervise volunteers,” Hartley said. “And if Santa Claus called to find out what he could bring us this year, I would say ‘more volunteers, please.’ That’s what the kids need most. We can’t do what we do for kids without them.”
“There are 400-500 children in foster care every night in Jasper County. Our CASAs are assigned to just over 200 of them. We always need volunteers.” ~Kelly Hartley