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CASA Connection seeks more volunteers

October 4, 2018

In hopes of helping more abused and neglected youth in Platte and Colfax counties, officials at CASA Connection are continuing their efforts to recruit more volunteers.

“Our volunteers provide the voice for the children,” said Lisa Rosendahl, outreach coordinator at CASA Connection, a nonprofit organization geared toward recruiting, training and supporting volunteers to advocate for abused and neglected children in courtrooms and communities. “They advocate (and) fight for the needs of the children.”

In efforts to increase volunteer recruitment, Rosendahl said she visits various organizations and groups in the community highlighting the organizational goal and volunteer opportunities, as well as setting up booths at Colfax County Fair, Columbus Days and craft shows.

Since the chapter’s establishment in 1992, Director Susie Jarecki said the chapter typically has an average of 20 volunteers and hopes to boost that number up to 30.

“We have amazing volunteers,” said Jarecki, noting some volunteers commute outside their counties to serve their assigned youth.

Jarecki said she has volunteers advocating from surrounding counties, as well.

“Because some of the neighboring counties don’t have a CASA program right now, so the volunteers still want to participate in the program … and advocate for children out of these two counties,” she said.

Because the majority of volunteers juggle full-time jobs, Jarecki said it’s oftentimes a struggle to retain volunteers. She said a number of volunteers resign after their assigned youth are placed in permanent, safe homes.

“Sometimes their job duties change, sometimes their family duties change or they’re moving or something like that,” Jarecki said.

Abused and neglected youth, from newborn to age 19, are referred to the program by juvenile court judges where the youth can receive support throughout the duration of their individual cases, which can range from eight months to four years.

Jarecki said the majority of these children were removed from parents suffering from substance abuse and mental health issues. When a child or a string of siblings are removed from their parents, Jarecki said they are either be placed with a relative, a foster home or are reunified with their parents once their cases are closed.

Jarecki said CASA Connection volunteers work closely with individuals from the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services and attorneys to support the youth mentally, physically and emotionally.

“The (DHHS) and the attorneys in this area are excellent,” Jarecki said. “They work very hard to make sure that these kids are safe and they don’t come back into the system. We are just another set of eyes and ears in there on the case … We just give another perspective to the judge before the judge makes the decision for what’s the next step for this child.”

Jarecki said volunteers are required to meet with their assigned youth at least once a month, in addition to attending group meetings and court hearings, until their cases are dismissed by the court. Volunteers are expected to build rapport with the youth and provide the court with recommendations on where they should be placed.

Volunteers have to be at least 21 years old and pass a background check. Once qualified, they have to complete a 30-hour curriculum set by the National CASA Association.

Although these individuals don’t need to have a background in law, Jarecki said volunteers will learn basic skills to advocate for abused and neglected children. Once assigned to a case, they are also expected to complete 12 hours of ongoing training annually.

“Like they say, it takes a village to raise a child,” Jarecki said.

Those wishing to volunteer for CASA Connection, 1465 27th Ave., are encouraged to call 402-563-4944.

Natasya Ong is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach her via email at natasya.ong@lee.net.

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