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By Damita Miller-Shanklin

Court Appointed Special Advocates help children who have been abused or neglected by empowering our community to volunteer as advocates for them in the court system. These volunteers are vital to the children of our community.

Molly Latham, Diversity Coordinator and Callie Langford, Communication Manager spoke with me about their campaign to reach more people to volunteer.

UM: What is the role of a CASA volunteer?

Molly: The CASA volunteer acts as an advocate and speaks in court on behalf of the child. We build a relationship with the child and work with the families, service providers, and teachers to create a holistic approach for the child and all involved. The biggest role of the volunteer is to advocate for the child when their case is heard before the judge. The volunteer also spends time with the child one on one to establish a bond of trust and growth.

UM: Why is it important to have a diverse volunteer team?

Molly: The children are diverse. We would like volunteers that best represent the needs of the children we represent. Our out reach effort allows people to bring a variety of perspectives. The whole system lacks diversity and we hope recruiting diverse volunteers will help our efforts in meeting the needs of the children we serve. We want the child to feel comfortable and identify with someone that looks like them.

UM: What are some upcoming events the community should be aware of?

Molly: We will be having an information session on April 24, 2014 at the Carver Museum. We will discuss the CASA organization and how to become a volunteer. The time will from 6:30pm-7: 45pm. Callie also pointed out that they conduct information sessions in their office which can be found on their website.

On April 10, 2014 the Light of Hope event to be held at the Carver Museum. It is a collaboration of child welfare agencies. It is a family event to help build trust in our community.

UM: What are a few facts people should know about volunteering with CASA?

Molly: Time is factor. A volunteer is required to do about 36 hours of training and three hours of courtroom observation. You do have four months to complete the training at your own pace. The average time a person will spend is about 15 -20 hours a month but it is flexible. It is also important for perspective volunteers to know they are matched with a professional staff person that will work with them throughout their volunteer commitment.

UM: What have you found to be the most difficult in reaching out to the community for diverse volunteers?

Molly: The most difficult part of reaching out to the Latino and Black community is the history of distrust. We have to work to overcome the mistrust. We would like these communities to engage in the process with us.

UM: What type of partnerships do you need to build a diverse group of volunteers?

Molly: We want to connect with community leaders, community organizations, and with people who are looking to become engaged in their community. We would like to increase our cultural lunch training and collaborate with the different churches because there is where most of the diverse volunteers can be reached.
We are excited about our ongoing collaborations with Alpha Kappa Alpha Alum who volunteer at our Galas; they provide toys for our toy drives and much more. They are a good connection. We need more.

UM: Any Last words?

Molly: We are always recruiting volunteers due to the increase in cases. The need is high we currently have 700 children that still need volunteers. It will take everyone to get involved. Here are a few statistics.

1. The County closed 688 cases last year. 55% reunited with their family, 21 went to live with relatives. We are looking at a 76% success rate with cases being closed and the child returning to their family.
2. The mission of CASA is to reunite the child with their family.

3. There is still a big disproportionate comparison between Latino and Black children needing services and are in the system. In 2013, there were 148 Black children removed and 321 Latino children removed from their homes. This means 23.2% Black children and 50.2% Latino children were removed from their homes.

I hope you will contact CASA at http://www.casatravis.org or call 512-459-2272 for more information. You can also email at volunteer@casatravis.org. Attend some of the information sessions to help make the decision if you are unsure.

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