“No child should go without an advocate,” CASA Recruiter Donna Bliss said. “That should not happen…for a child to go without a voice.”
The objective of the Child Advocacy Services Program in St. Charles Parish is to recruit, train and supervise everyday citizens to serve as powerful voices for children. As part of the program, these Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) volunteers serve with the primary goal of helping each child reach a safe and permanent home.
St. Charles Parish CASA Volunteer Supervisor Jodi Luna was a CASA for 3 years before starting her employment at the organization. She said there are currently 24 kids in care and 14 trained advocates to represent them. Ideally it would be a 1:1 ratio.
“I believe in this agency and its mission so much,” Luna said. “It gives you the opportunity to be a voice for that child.”
There are several steps to becoming a CASA volunteer, including 30 hours of training. And while that number may seem daunting, it’s a task Luling resident Beth Bell took on in 2020.
“I did all of the volunteering I could do with our kids and now they’re grown,” Bell said. “I decided to fill that void and space.”
Bell said she had previously heard about CASA volunteering through her church, and with an empty nest she decided to reach out and learn more about the program. After giving it some thought, she decided to move forward with the weekly training.
“Thirty hours sounds daunting, but it really isn’t. It was something to look forward to each week,” Bell said. “It was very easy to follow and they taught us everything that we needed to know.”
Bell was sworn in as a CASA in July 2020.
“My experience so far … it’s challenging, but it’s very rewarding at the same time,” Bell said. “I love the kids. There’s so much need out there for advocacy. I think that what drew me to it is knowing that I could make a difference in these lives.”
Bell said that being able to help, as well as the connectivity that the program offers, has been life-changing for her.
“I’ve gained so much,” she said. “It’s been good all the way around knowing I can help someone.”
The CASA training program used to be completely in person, but Bliss said that the pandemic, as well as the desire to help accommodate individuals with busy schedules, led the organization to develop an online training portal.
“You have the opportunity to change a person life,” Bliss said. “The traumas that they’re facing carry on into adulthood and one caring and competent adult can change the trajectory of that child’s life and reduce that trauma into adulthood.”
CASA Community Outreach Director Lauren Reynolds agrees.
“The last impact that a CASA has on a child is incredible,” she said. “Seeing the dynamic between a CASA and the child they have serve will bring you to tears.”
Bell said she couldn’t be happier with her decision to become a CASA.
“It’s what you can do to provide support now, but also it’ll help when they’re an adult and able to contribute to society in a meaningful way and have a better life than what they started with,” she said. “This is how we can give kids support…to give them a chance. The end result is your ability to get out there and make a change.”
To learn about CASA’s mission and volunteer possibilities, visit www.childadv.net or search for the “Child Advocacy Services CASA and CAC” page on Facebook.