Thursday, November 20, 2008

“I never looked back.”

My name is Ed Kilcullen, and I am the State Director for Maryland CASA Association, a network of 15 Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) programs serving children in Baltimore City and 16 counties throughout the state. CASA recruits, trains and supervises adult volunteers who are appointed by the court to serve as advocates for abused and neglected children. CASA volunteers thoroughly research their assigned child's life, interview all relevant parties, and make recommendations to the court based on the child's best interest. In the last year, more than 1,000 volunteers advocated for 1,400 children but, with approximately 11,000 children under the protection of the courts in Maryland as a result of abuse and neglect, CASA must recruit many more volunteers to reach all the children.

Please consider volunteering as a Court Appointed Special Advocate for an abused or neglected child. It takes only a few hours a month to make a huge difference in a child's life. Some of our CASA volunteers recently took some time to talk about their experiences with our organization. Read on!

“As a CASA volunteer I am able to help children navigate through the court process and the multiple agencies that they often come into contact with when they are in foster care. Often this process is difficult for the children because of the disruption to their home lives that impacts all aspects of their lives. You can provide them with a stable relationship that they can count on in times when little else may remain consistent in their lives. I can tell you this work will bring joys as well as frustrations, sharing good times as well as bad and one of the most satisfying relationships you can have with children who need it most. It also provides me with a sense of accomplishment when I can advocate for a child that can’t speak up for themselves. If you are looking for a volunteer experience that will change lives I urge you to become a CASA. There are so many children who have a need that you are uniquely qualified to fill – all it will take is a few hours a month.”

Allison Butlien
CASA volunteer since 2001
CASA of Baltimore

“Throughout my years as a teacher, I began to realize that I had many students who were living in unhealthy and abusive environments. Though they usually kept their home problems to themselves, sometimes it was apparent and could not be missed or ignored. One of my students reported to class with a completely shaven head (before it was in style). When I asked him what happened, he told me his father did it to punish him. He also had bruises on his arms, neck and other areas which he could not hide. He had difficulty looking at me. My heart broke for him, as he was very polite and never a problem in class and may have been a "shining" student under healthier circumstances. Aside from notifying the nurse and administrators, I could do nothing more to help him. It was frustrating and depressing knowing that some children have to endure the most hideous and painful situations on a daily basis. Now that I am a CASA, I am in a position to do more. CASA volunteers make every effort to see that children get what they need and what they deserve. It is a wonderfully gratifying feeling knowing you may actually have made a significant difference in improving a child’s life. Believe me, you get way more than you give when you advocate for a child.”

Adele Hammerman
CASA volunteer since 2007
CASA of Baltimore County

“I had been retired for seven years when I decided to train to be a CASA volunteer. A few months later my CASA supervisor asked me to take my first case – a 14 year old girl. I never looked back. She just turned 18 and, after 3½ years of representing her best interests, I can truly say that this was the most meaningful volunteer experience that I have ever had. I think I may have made a difference in her life and in so doing made many new friends.”

Phyllis Hoyer CASA volunteer since 2005
CASA of Frederick County

“It was not until I began teaching 17 years ago I that I realized just how many children were being abused and/or neglected every year. It broke my heart to hear of these children being treated in such a manner. When I learned of CASA eight years ago, I had just had a newborn baby. The love and joy I felt for my new baby was so strong that I felt compelled to help other children in crisis. CASA was the perfect match for me. As an educator, I know firsthand what is involved in making sure children's needs are met in the educational environment. As a mother of two wonderful children, I know what children need to feel safe and secure. Additionally, one of the many benefits of being a volunteer is knowing that I made a difference in the life of a child. I am the voice for a child in need. CASA is a part of who I am and what I believe.”

Jennette Mears
CASA volunteer since 2001
CASA of the Lower Shore

Tune into to MPT tonight at 9:30 p.m. for Foster Care Stories: A Place to Be (lauded today by Baltimore Sun critic David Zurawik) with a companion live phone bank so you, too, can learn how to help Maryland’s foster care system.

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