Front Row (left to right): Jennifer Handlan (Susquehanna Valley CASA Case Manager), Betsy Snook (new CASA volunteer), Heather Strassner (new CASA volunteer), Rachael Smith (new CASA volunteer), Judge Joy Reynolds McCoy (Lycoming County), Judge Anthony J. Rosini (Northumberland County), Jennifer Rempe (Susquehanna Valley CASA Case Manager)
Back Row (left to right): Bill Fairl (new CASA volunteer), Carolyn Fairl (new CASA volunteer), Christine Matthews (new CASA volunteer, Judge Michael H. Sholley (Snyder and Union Counties)
Susquehanna Valley CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) – Voices for Children inducted its fourth corps of trained advocate volunteers to serve local abused and neglected children on Tuesday, January 27, 2015 at the Union County Courthouse. The Honorable Judges Joy Reynolds McCoy (Lycoming County), Anthony J. Rosini (Northumberland County), and Michael H. Sholley (Snyder and Union Counties) presided over the ceremony.
The six new inductees are: Carolyn and Bill Fairl (Selinsgrove), Christine Matthews (Sunbury), Rachael Smith (Beavertown), Betsy Snook (Lewisburg) and Heather Strassner (Lewisburg). Tom Fisher (Lewisburg) also completed the training course, but will be sworn in at a later date. “We are excited to welcome this set of diverse individuals to our organization. Their dedication and passion will be of great benefit to the local children they advocate for. It’s quite an endeavor for someone to say ‘I want to be a CASA’,” said Judith Jones, Executive Director of Susquehanna Valley CASA – Voices for Children, a non-profit organization serving Lycoming, Northumberland, Union and Snyder counties.
Susquehanna Valley CASA – Voices for Children is a volunteer-powered network of committed citizens – from all walks of life – who are specially trained to fight for abused and neglected children, to make sure their basic rights and essential needs are not overlooked or ignored by the overburdened foster care and child welfare systems. Appointed by Judges, CASA volunteers assist the Courts in determining what is in the best interest of the child. Over the course of a case, the advocate meets directly and regularly (at least once per month) with his or her assigned child (or sibling set), and also speaks with everyone of significance in that child’s life: parents and relatives, foster parents, teachers, neighbors, medical professionals, attorneys, social workers, and others. CASA considers and investigates every aspect of the child’s life – placement/permanency, visitation, educational, medical, behavioral, social, financial/physical needs, vocational and life skills. The CASA volunteer then informs the Court and the other parties involved what the child’s needs are, and makes recommendations regarding a permanent home and any needed support or services for the child.
During the ceremony, the judges shared their perspectives on CASA and the important role the volunteers play. “CASA is the watchdog for the Court. I learn lots of invaluable information from the volunteers’ reports – information that I did not have from any other source. I wish we had a CASA for every child,” said The Honorable Judge McCoy. The Honorable Judge Rosini mentioned how much he values the volunteers’ time, and complimented the thorough and helpful volunteer reports. The Honorable Judge Sholley concluded, “Judges can’t get enough information about the children and families that come before us. These children are in these situations through no fault of their own, and the most important thing we can give to them is well-informed permanence.”
Despite just completing the 40-hour volunteer training course, the Susquehanna Valley CASA – Voices for Children staff is already gearing up for the next volunteer training class starting in April. Said Jones, “Even with these six new advocates joining us, there are more children waiting than we have volunteers to supply.” According to Jones, 55 abused and neglected children across the organization’s four-county service area are wait-listed for a CASA of their own. “We are continually recruiting compassionate adults who can think critically, make reasonable recommendations and work well with others. All it takes to make a difference in the life of a maltreated child is a caring adult, and every single one of those children deserve a CASA volunteer,” appealed Jones.
Individuals interested in becoming a CASA volunteer, or making a donation to expand CASA’s services to more abused and neglected children, are asked to contact the Susquehanna Valley CASA – Voices for Children office at (570) 988- 2200, www.susquehannavalleycasa.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Profiles of the New CASA Volunteers:
Retirees Carolyn and Bill Fairl relocated to Selinsgrove from Northern Virginia about two years ago. Bill retired from a long career in engineering and management; Carolyn was a graphic artist. They are proud parents of four grown children. Their motivation for becoming CASA volunteers comes from missing their own children, their gratitude to the loving foster family that raised Bill’s father, and to the inspiration provided to them by dear family friends, Jonas and Lisa Beiler.
Sunbury resident Christine Matthews looks forward to helping abused and neglected children find their voices. She has two teenage sons of her own, one of whom is adopted, and knows how important a safe, secure and stable home is for children to thrive. She owns and operates the Shear Delight Styling Salon in Northumberland.
Rachael Smith, a Beavertown resident, is an educator with teaching certificates in Early Childhood Development and Special Education. Smith comes to CASA with some awareness of the child welfare system, having babysat many foster children over the past ten years, and having a family member who works for Children and Youth Services in a neighboring county.
Betsy Snook, of Lewisburg, comes to CASA with decades of exposure to foster care, as her family took in foster babies during Snook’s childhood. Snook is a registered nurse and is the Chief Executive Officer of the PA State Nurses Association. She has three children of her own, and five grandchildren, with another shortly on the way. “Advocacy is second nature to me as a mother and a nurse. I look forward with great excitement and honor to advocate on behalf of children as a CASA volunteer,” stated Snook.
Lewisburg resident Heather Strassner is a purchasing assistant for a local non-profit organization. She first heard about Susquehanna Valley CASA – Voices for Children through her church, which happened to be around the same time multiple instances of local children were making the news for getting into serious trouble – the Interstate 80 rock-throwing incident, arsons and vandalism. Strassner then knew she wanted to do something to make a difference for children in her community. Strassner said, “As a CASA volunteer, I can make sure that a child’s voice is heard just when they need it the most.”