Friday, July 22, 2016

These Kids Don’t Have Anyone to Stand Up for Them

This agency needs volunteers now.
By Megan S. Willman



Debbie Mefford (left) and Kerma Hopewell dedicate a significant amount of time to ensuring
that the kids being served through CASA are receiving the best care. Photo by Melissa Donald 



I keep a Post-it note in my car that reads, “Be Kind.” It’s been there for years, and I continue to surprise myself by how often I reference it. I confess kindness isn’t always my gut-level reaction, so I use the reminder to keep myself in check. A popular quote says, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” It’s hard to remember that we all have “stuff” we’re working through from moment to moment, particularly when we’re distracted or can’t see what may be troubling another person.

But that’s not always the case. Sometimes, we can easily tell that someone needs our kindness and compassion. When that person is a child, what we have to give might make all the difference in the world.

CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) works on behalf of children who have been removed from their homes due to parental abuse or neglect. CASA volunteers perform home visits, meet with school officials and counselors, and attend court with the children.

CASA volunteers are used in both Kentucky and Indiana. Recently, I sat down with the New Albany CASA office’s Debbie Mefford, program director, and Kerma Hopewell, staff advocate, to talk about the needs specifically in Indiana’s Floyd and Washington Counties.

Debbie worked as a paralegal for more than 20 years before coming to CASA, and she operates a prison ministry. “This is a tough job that can be frightening at times,” she says of her work with CASA. “It breaks your heart to see a child in a painful situation.

“When children don’t get what they need in the early years, there are lifelong implications,” says Debbie. “I want to get these children in a safe environment where they can flourish.”

Kerma was a volunteer with CASA for five years before she became a staff advocate. “My husband was worried it might be too much for me, and I admit I was half scared and half excited. I am driven to see each case through to the end and know that I did the best I could for that child. I get the chance to see a child’s life change for the better, and I can’t wait to see what each of those children grow up to be.”

What does it take to become a CASA volunteer?
  • An interested volunteer must be 21 or older and will have an interview.
  • Initial training is 30 hours (20 in a classroom setting and 10 in courtroom observation). Judge Terrence Cody swears in the volunteers, and then each will begin work with a child.
  • After completing an investigation that includes home and school visits, the volunteer submits a report to Judge Cody. Training classes run regularly through the year.
  • Contact Debbie Mefford at 812.948.0400 or dmefford@stecharities.org
Southern Indiana’s CASA will be holding its first-ever fundraiser on July 17 at Wick’s Pizza, 225 State Street, New Albany, from noon-8pm. Ten percent of all food proceeds go to CASA, and there will be live music and games. There’s no cover charge, just an opportunity to donate whatever you feel you can give.

Do you enjoy mentoring children? Here's another volunteer opportunity you'll love.

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