Help CASA help the children

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By Scotty McDaniel

There are currently eight Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteers, and according to Beverly Hilger, there is a great need for more.

Hilger, coordinator of Volunteer Advocates in Shelby and Spencer Counties, said CASA volunteers have aided 20 abused or neglected children in its first six months in Shelby and Spencer Counties. But with 125 children in out-of-home-care in these counties, she said CASA needs more volunteers to extend its impact.

According to Hilger, after receiving a court order from the family court judge, CASA volunteers actively get to know each child on a personal basis. Some of the ways they do that include visiting the child at home and school, and talking to their therapists and doctors. Kentucky law requires volunteers to see or speak to each child every week. When it's time for the child to go to court, the volunteer goes to represent the child's best interest before the judge.

"What we hope to provide is an extra set of eyes and ears for the judge to help make his decisions," she said. "Anytime an adult expresses an interest in a child, they make a difference in that child's life. Sometimes it's not visible in the very beginning, but in the long run it will be."

Hilger said CASA kids are more likely to graduate high school, go to college and contribute to the community.

"CASA has a history of being a stabilizing force for children," she said. "Sometimes we're the only constant in the kids' lives. To see a kid find permanency in their life and know that they're safe and out of harm's way - that's always rewarding."

Started by a judge in Washington in the early 1980s, CASA spread to Kentucky in 1985, where it continues to broaden its impact. Anderson County officials recently let the CASA Advisory Board know of its interest in becoming part of the CASA program. With Anderson County included, all counties in the 53rd Judicial Circuit would be involved.

In Kentucky, CASA operates only on donations. Hilger said the support of the community has been instrumental in the non-profit organization's early success.

The local CASA program has received a $25,000 grant from Shelby County Community Foundation, $10,000 from Metro United Way, and local Optometrist Dr. Dan Bowersox offered part of his building for rent-free office space.

CASA officials hope to raise awareness for their cause and attract much-needed volunteers by setting up a booth at the Shelbyville Horse Show July 30- Aug. 2. To raise money to benefit children in Shelby and Spencer Counties raffle tickets will be sold for a chance to win a 2008 Mercedes-Benz CLK350 convertible.

Anyone interested in helping with the CASA cause can call the CASA office at 502-647-2155 or toll free 866-957-CASA. Beginning in September orientation for volunteers will be held on the second Tuesday of each month from 6-7 at the DCBS office located at 31 Mt. Rushmore Ct., Shelbyville.

"I've got kids waiting for somebody to help them," Hilger said.