“Life's most persistent and urgent question is, “What are you doing for others?” the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said to an audience in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1957.
In 1994, Congress passed the King Holiday and Service Act, designating Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a national day of service. Every year on the third Monday in January, Americans honor Dr. King’s legacy, service and leadership by engaging in community activism and volunteering.
If you are looking for a unique and long-term way to give back to your community, consider becoming a CASA volunteer, or Court Appointed Special Advocate, and helping children and families right here in Liberty/Chamber Counties.
“CASA is more than just your everyday volunteer opportunity,” said Dr. Kimberly Stephens, Executive Director of CASA Liberty/Chamber Counties. “Our volunteers commit their time to make a direct, lasting impact in the life of a child in foster care, giving them a better chance at a happy future.”
When a family is in crisis and a child is removed from home, the child is placed in the foster care system, sometimes far away from their friends, loved ones and home community. Though they are in this situation due to no fault of their own, they face a higher risk than their peers of negative outcomes such as homelessness, mental health problems and dropping out of school.
“Due to the trauma they have experienced and being separated from their families, children in foster care are incredibly vulnerable,” said Dr. Stephens. “They need a dedicated advocate to watch over them while they are in the system.”
CASA volunteers go through pre-service training and then are appointed by judges to advocate for a child in foster care. They get to know the child individually, and speak with their family of origin, foster parents, teachers, therapist and others, to form a holistic picture of the child’s unique needs and circumstances. Their advocacy helps ensure the child’s best interests are heard in the court and that they are safe and supported while they are in foster care.
CASA volunteers advocate first and foremost for reunification with the child’s family of origin, and help ensure that the child has a network of family members and other adults who will support them even after CASA and CPS involvement ends. When reunification is not safe or possible, they work to place the child with relatives or a loving adoptive family.
“We know that it is best for children when they can live safely at home,” said Dr. Stephens. “In fact, we hope for a day when CASA is no longer needed because all children are healthy and safe growing up with their families. Until then, we need more community members to step up and advocate, right here, right now.”
Last year, 121 CASA volunteers served 238 children in the foster care system in Liberty/Chamber Counties, but new children enter the system daily and need a volunteer to advocate for their best interests. The CASA movement’s goal is to grow to serve all children in the Texas system.
“Dr. King envisioned a ‘beloved community,’ where all people have the same opportunities to thrive. At CASA Liberty/Chamber Counties, we believe that change starts with children,” said Mrs. Stephens.
The next INFORMATION/TRAINING session is at CASA, 2015 Scout Street in Liberty Jan. 15 at 1 p.m.