Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Santa Barbara County is giving a voice to those in our community who may not be able to speak up for themselves. The program, with offices located in Santa Maria, Lompoc, and Santa Barbara, recruits, trains, supervises and supports community volunteers who make an extraordinary commitment to a child.

“Our volunteers are just amazing in the work that they do to benefit children who, through no fault of their own, have become part of the child welfare system,” explained Kim Colby Davis, Executive Director for CASA. “All of the kids we serve have been removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect. Many of them are reunited with their families when their family has the motivation and will to make changes that allow the children to be safe in their care. Other children are adopted – another good outcome. And some of the kids are in the foster care system for long periods of time, waiting for a permanent, nurturing home. In all cases, our volunteers report directly to the court, and advise on what they believe is in the best interest of the child.”

CASA volunteers make a huge commitment of their time to get to know the child they are assigned to work with to help assure they are speaking out for the child’s best interests.

“When children are thrust into our legal system through no fault of their own, many agencies wade in to address the problem. However, without CASA volunteers, there is no assigned person to be the child’s advocate to ensure the child’s voice is heard,” Explains Jeff Hearn, who serves as a Board Member for CASA. “Our advocates use their training and passion for children to ensure there is one person looking out for what is best for that child. Children are a community’s most prized asset. Those assets need to be protected.”

Volunteers for CASA go through an extensive background check and a 34-hour training program. They are then sworn in as officers of the court, and matched with a child who they commit to serve through the duration of that child’s case. Davis says the average time a volunteer gives their CASA role (after training is complete) is 12 hours per month. This includes weekly visits with the child as well as time for interviews with every person who is involved in that child’s case – teachers, social workers, care givers, etc.

CASA

“Our volunteers act as the ‘eyes and ears of the court’ and collect information to present to the court in a report,” Davis explained. “I would not say being a CASA is easy, but I will say that it is an incredibly rewarding experience. Our volunteers get to see how the child welfare system works, and how they can be an integral part of helping things work even better, ensuring that every child is safe and has the services needed to be happy and healthy. It’s a powerful experience of advocacy in action.”

“Children with a CASA volunteer have access to more services, and they are more likely to thrive. CASA volunteers make a real and lasting difference in the lives of the most vulnerable children in our community,” explained George J. Majoue, a volunteer with CASA. Majoue says he enjoys being a volunteer with CASA because it gives children an opportunity to be themselves without fear of being judged or being neglected.

“For [a child] to know that he can be a playful child, even though he is a 15-year-old, creates avenues of freedom which opens the doors to possibilities vs. impossibilities,” explained Majoue. “The children in the foster system, and those we advocate for through CASA have already faced too many impossibilities. I can honestly say that my CASA child is loved unconditionally, as if he were my own child.”

James Jepsen, General Manager at Local Copies, Etc. witnessed many people going through the foster care system and wanted to get involved in an organization that has a positive impact on these people.

“I grew up with many friends who were foster children, and family members and neighbors of mine have been foster parents. I’ve heard so many times about the struggles, fears, and frustrations involved in being in ‘the [foster care] system.’”, Jepsen explained. “So many foster children are living in a world without hope. An organization like CASA helps to see these children through the difficult times! Without hope, so many of them could give up, drop out of school, or worse. It is gratifying to know that my efforts [with CASA], no matter how small, help to make a much larger impact than I could ever make on my own.”

CASA Executive Director Kim Davis says that while the commitment CASA asks for from their volunteers is extensive, she sees how rewarding the program can be for those who are able to get involved.

“Our volunteers are so committed the program, it really is inspiring to see,” Davis said. “And it’s awesome to see that they get back in return from their experience with these children just as much as they give.”

Davis says the impact CASA volunteers have on the lives of the children they serve is huge.

“Think about it – for every child whose life can be made stable and safe, our volunteers impact the community today and for the future. Less homelessness, fewer drug addictions, less chance that a child drifts into a life of crime and ends up populating jails,” Davis explained.

CASA currently has a large need for more volunteers in Santa Maria. There is a training course that begins in October, and those interested should start the application process right away. Program application and additional information is available on the CASA website, sbcasa.org.

Those who are unable to make the time commitment to be a volunteer can support CASA and other ways, too. The non-profit only receives 10% of it’s funding from the government, and the rest of the program costs are covered from support from businesses and individuals, as well as local community foundations.

“Local businesses have the opportunity to support CASA by being a sponsor of our annual fundraiser, CASA at the Ranch (formerly CASA at the Vineyard). We are really excited about the upcoming event, which will bring many wineries together, as we have in the past, along with several breweries, and a unique and wonderful dinner catered by Testa’s Catering,” Davis explained.

This year’s the event is hosted by CMT Ranch – an amazing location in Orcutt. Businesses who want to partner with us by becoming a sponsor should reach out to Tim@sbcasa.org. CASA offers a wide variety of sponsorship opportunities, and they are in need of many more businesses to join them.

Davis said community support is crucial to the success of CASA, and the program itself plays an important role in the prosperity of our local community.

“These are OUR kids – the community’s kids. This is not someone else’s problem. The children that CASA serves are the kids that are in school with your kids, and one day they will be adults in our community, and we have the responsibility as a community to treat them with dignity and respect, to make sure they are cared for,” Davis explained. “We can’t expect a good outcome if we don’t invest in making sure our kids are safe. And CASA will continue to work to make sure that we have the volunteers we need, but we could not do the work we do without the support of the local business community.”

Davis says she looks forward to continuing to see the community embrace CASA and the success stories it brings for the children the program serves.

“We know it works. Give a child a relationship with a caring adult who will guide them through what is likely the most stressful time in their lives, and we see stable young adults who complete high school and go on to college or trade school. We work with many agencies in the community to ensure the most positive outcome for each child. We make sure that kids get the support they need, not just to survive, but to thrive.”