Stepping up for children: Marion CASA seeks to double its volunteers

October 2017 Posted in Community

By Nancy Jennings

“Be a voice, not an echo.”

This quotation from Albert Einstein sums up what being a Court Appointed Special Advocate for Children (CASA) volunteer is all about.

According to Shaney Starr, executive director of CASA of Marion County, there are 101 sworn-in CASA volunteers helping represent children in the foster care system. But with 557 Marion County abused and neglected children currently in foster homes, more help is needed.

Starr says the county needs at least 200 trained volunteers, and she’s striving to reach that goal by adding 100 more volunteers within the next 18 months.

“No matter what, kids want to be with their families. It’s important to work to make sure that can happen and those children can be safe,” she said.

CASA volunteers get to know the child in the midst of the necessary court proceedings, making sure their needs aren’t overlooked. Duties include reviewing documents and records, and interviewing family members and professionals involved in the child’s case file.

CASA training – which takes place four times a year – includes 15 hours of in-office participation and 15 hours of online instruction. These requirements are in addition to completion of fingerprinting, background checks, an interview and reference checks.

“I’ve seen a quotation that says ‘Every child is one caring adult away from a success story.’ That really encompasses what we do,” Starr said.

CASA volunteer Ron Eubanks, a new Silverton resident, moved from Texas in early February. He has been a CASA volunteer for nine years. He has represented 12 children so far.

“We’re an advocate for the best interests of the child,” he said. “I met a woman not long ago who had been in foster care between two and 12 years old. She had been to 21 different foster care homes – and she was considering becoming a CASA volunteer because she had known what it was like,” he said.

Craig and Gail Bazzi became CASA volunteers in May. “Two of our daughters are volunteers, one in Hood River and the other in Mount Angel,” Gail added.

After completing their training, the Silverton couple were assigned four teenage siblings. With Craig having over 30 years of experience in the Marion County Juvenile Court, he felt prepared for the challenge.

“I was retired and wanted to continue to do some meaningful activity and I’ve always been in the social services field. It’s the dependency side of the system rather than the delinquency side, which was what I was familiar with,” Craig said.

“The kids I used to work with had committed some law violations. With these kids, it’s usually through no fault of their own that they’re in their situation.”

Gail used to run a therapeutic foster care home for teenage girls. She attended a CASA presentation at the Silverton Senior Center. Meeting Starr there made a big impact on her. “She made me want to be a CASA. She’s so inviting and passionate about it,” Gail said.

Since January, Silverton resident Darlene Blackstone has been volunteering as a CASA advocate recruiter. She attended a Rotary meeting that same month and heard Starr’s impassioned plea to help the children. She signed up then and there.

“I can’t stand the thought of these little people not being cared for,” she said.

Blackstone started reaching out to local churches. Fr. Basil Lawrence at St. Paul’s Catholic Church agreed to schedule presentations after his Masses. Some interest was generated and “nine people showed up.” Starr sees Blackstone’s efforts as encouraging and hopes the attention will attract more involvement.

“Connecting with the faith community is pretty amazing. It’s an untapped area that we need to focus on. Having other people able to help carry our message and recruit is an amazing blessing,” she said.

Blackstone and Eubanks run the Silverton/Mount Angel orientation meetings together. They explain the application process and answer general questions.

Eubanks tells a story in his recruitment presentations:

“A man was standing on the beach and saw someone bending over and picking up something off the ground and throwing it in the ocean. He walked over to see what was happening and came across a woman standing on the beach surrounded by hundreds of starfish. She was picking up one at a time and throwing it in the water.

“He asked her, ‘What are you doing?’ She answered, ‘These starfish have been washed up on the beach and if they stay here too long, they will dry up and die. If we get them back in the water they’ll survive.’

“‘But there are hundreds of them – and you’re throwing them in one at a time. What difference can this really make?’ he asked. Holding one up, she said, ‘It makes a difference to this one.’”

“’She’ is CASA, and the ‘man’ is you and me,” Eubanks said.

Anyone interested in learning more about the CASA program, meetings are held the first Monday of every month, noon to 1 p.m. and the third Monday, 4 to 5 p.m. at the Marion County office, 3530 River Road N. in Keizer. For special meeting times and locations in the Silverton/Mount Angel area, call 503-967-6420.

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