A representative for a local chapter of a national non-profit organization says they desperately need volunteers in Ashley County to work with children involved in the court system.
Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA, started working with children in 1976 and by 2007 had reached over two million children across the country.
Cassidy Mansur, the advocate supervisor for the CASA of the 10th Judicial District program, said that her office covers five counties in Southeast Arkansas including Ashley, Drew, Chicot, Bradley, and Desha.
“We are a nonprofit organization that promotes volunteer advocacy so every abused or neglected child in our community can be safe, have a permanent home, and the opportunity to thrive,” Mansur said.
CASA volunteers work directly with the court system to advocate for children who are in the system.
“Unlike a shelter, food bank, or other service providers, CASA can only step in when ordered by the judge,” Mansur said.
According to Mansur, CASA is a fact-based program that reports findings, both good and bad, directly to the circuit judge who ordered them to work on the case.
“Our main goal is to find a safe, forever home for the child,” Mansur said.
Mansur said that CASA volunteers work with all parties involved in a child’s case: attorneys, DHS caseworkers, therapists, foster parents, biological parents, relatives, and the judge, everyone that child comes in contact with on a regular basis.
Once we are assigned to a case, we will meet with the child or children and begin to advocate for their best interest and sometimes we think the child should go back home, other times, we recommend the child stay in care,” Mansur said.
Right now there are approximately 30 children in Ashley County that are in care and who need advocates, but there are only 12 volunteers throughout the whole program and those volunteers are trying to cover all five counties.
Sometimes cases can last up to 18 months tying up a volunteer for a lengthy amount of time.
“We always need volunteers and our goal is to have enough volunteers that a CASA can serve every child in care throughout our five counties,” Mansur said.
Some of the CASA volunteers say that this type of work isn’t a traditional volunteer experience.
“You’re making a dedication to children who do not have reliable people in their corner and CASA is an out of the box experience that provides you with a group of friends who share the same love and willingness to help children be all that they can be,” Constance Williams, a CASA volunteer said.
Deborah Zeigler said that she feels it is rewarding to help children who would otherwise be the innocent victims of irresponsible adults.
“I joined CASA because I wanted to help children, especially those who cannot count on their family, and are the innocent victims of adults’ bad decisions,” Zeigler said.
Mansur said the organization not only desperately needs more volunteers, but they are also looking for board members.
“Becoming a board member is less intense than becoming a volunteer, but you still get to make an impact in the lives of children in our community,” Mansur said.
In addition to becoming a volunteer or a board member, Mansur said those interested in helping may donate money or simply help spread the word about the program.
“No one is really aware that this service is offered in our community. We run mainly on word of mouth, so if you cannot commit to becoming a volunteer or board member, tell your friends about us, like our page on Facebook, and share our posts,” Mansur said.
CASA also does speaking engagements and will come speak to an interested group if one is willing to help or learn more.
In addition the organization works to put on fun events and purchase other items that might benefit the children they are working with, but Mansur said funds strongly limit what they are able to do.
“We love to be able to provide our children and volunteers with fun events and gifts throughout the year, but we need donations in order to do this, we are non profit so we run off of donations alone,” Mansur said.
April is child abuse awareness month and on Monday the CASA volunteers planted pinwheels in the Ashley County Courthouse lawn in Hamburg to help raise awareness to both child abuse and the CASA organization.