Nearly 200 people across Lycoming, Northumberland, Snyder and Union counties stepped out to support Susquehanna Valley CASA – Voices for Children’s inaugural “Constellation of Hope” Gala, held earlier this fall, raising awareness and funds for local abused and neglected children.
The Gala’s focal point was the keynote speech delivered by Ashley Rhodes-Courter, New York Times bestselling author of Three Little Words and foster children advocate. Spending almost 10 years in Florida’s foster care system, RhodesCourter described her journey through countless foster home placements, most of them abusive and overcrowded. In one home, 16 people lived in a trailer and the children were regularly beaten, neglected, verbally assaulted, and food was withheld. Another foster parent was eventually convicted as a pedophile. Rhodes-Courter racked up a staggering number of adults – 195 – who were connected to the child welfare system and paid to protect her best interests during her years in foster care. “Yet,” Rhodes-Courter noted, “it took one person — my CASA — an unpaid volunteer, to change the course of my case and help get me out of the system.”
“We are thrilled with the turnout and support of the Gala,” said Judith Jones, Executive Director of Susquehanna Valley CASA – Voices for Children. “We have nearly 50 children waiting to be assigned to a CASA, and with the funding and volunteer resources the Gala brought in, we will be able to serve more of these waiting children.”
PPL was the event’s premier corporate sponsor. Teri MacBride, PPL Regional Affairs Director, said “PPL is dedicated to enriching the communities we serve, and we are excited to support Susquehanna Valley CASA. By giving a voice to maltreated children, CASA can have a profoundly positive impact on those children’s lives. To improve the life of a child is to strengthen the foundation our entire community for years to come.”
Additional event sponsors included: Weis Markets, Steininger’s Laundry and Dry Cleaning, Brookside Homes, Verizon, HandUP Foundation, Swineford National Bank/FNB Bank N.A., Albright Care Services, Mazeppa Union Church, Rita’s House, James Gallo and Michael Finley, Christy and Doug Diven, Judith and Ron Jones, Suzanne and Tom Fitzgerald, Jennifer and James Handlan, the Honorable Joy Reynolds McCoy, the Honorable Michael H. Sholley, and Karen Nicholson. Music was provided by the Urban Souls performance group of Uptown Music Collective in Williamsport.
“It was great to hear Ashley describe in such a personal and compelling way what the role of a CASA is. I sometimes struggle to explain the role to others, but she did it in a way that is sure to make people want to support or perhaps even join us in what we do,” said Jerry Spegman, a Gala attendee and a CASA volunteer since 2007.
It is this CASA volunteer role that is the heart of what CASA does. CASA recruits, trains and supports citizen volunteers, from all walks of life, to advocate for the best interests of abused and neglected children. These volunteer advocates, empowered directly by the courts, help ensure that each child’s rights and needs are being attended to while in foster care, through child-focused objective investigation and observation. The volunteers stay with their assigned child/children until they are placed in safe, loving, permanent homes. For many abused children, a CASA volunteer is the only constant adult presence in their lives.
With a CASA volunteer, a child is more likely to find a safe, permanent home, more likely to do better in school, more likely to get the help and services they need while in the child welfare system, and spend less time in foster care. “A CASA volunteer can be a beacon of hope for these children. As an advocate, you give that child a voice — and a chance for a better life,” noted Jones.
To be a CASA child advocate volunteer, one need not be an attorney or a social worker. “Adults from all backgrounds are encouraged to join us. In fact, our current base of volunteers includes former and current educators, business professionals, nurses and other health professionals, school bus drivers, bakers, psychologists, and many more. It’s the common, passionate belief that all children deserve a safe, permanent and nurturing home that bonds us,” said Jones.
After passing a background check, volunteers undergo a 40-hour, specialized and in-depth introductory training course, in addition to obtaining 12 hours of additional in-service training each year. The volunteers agree to remain with their assigned child/children until their case is closed, which takes about 18-24 months, on average. “Commitment and perseverance are key for the child advocate volunteers. It can be daunting to maneuver through the legal and child welfare systems, but it’s crucial for our volunteers to be able to persevere — their assigned children depend on them. This is one cause where the actions of a single person means everything.”
Adults 21 and older are welcome to join Susquehanna Valley CASA’s volunteer corps. The next training class is scheduled to begin on Wednesday, December 3, 2014. To learn more about Susquehanna Valley CASA or to become a volunteer child advocate, please visit www.SusquehannaValleyCASA.com or call (570) 988-2200.