INDIANAPOLIS — A sea of blue T-shirts filled Indiana’s State House Tuesday for CASA Day at the State House, an annual event aimed at bringing together state officials and CASA staff and volunteers.
Throughout the day, representatives from various state offices shared the importance of advocating for the best interest of foster children. CASA advocates were able to interact with legislators about important issues facing children.
Indiana Chief Justice Loretta Rush, Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray, and Representative Wendy McNamara was in attendance to thank volunteers for their service. More than 4,700 CASA volunteers in 84 Indiana counties advocated on behalf of nearly 26,500 children in 2018.
CASA Palooza 2019 is slated for April 26th at Sylvan Cellars Event Center in Rome City.
This event is our annual fundraiser that features food, drinks and silent auction items with proceeds directly benefiting Northeastern Indiana CASA. Last year, with the support and help of generous community members, sponsors, volunteers and business, we raised $52,500!
We are looking forward to another amazing event. Stay tuned for more details and ticket information. Get all the event details as the unfold at http://www.neincasa.net/casa-palooza-2019.
Want to know when tickets become available? Sign up to get an email notification!
It’s a new year and with the changing of the calendar comes some new radio clips to introduce the community to Northeastern Indiana CASA. These short blurbs about what we do and how we impact the lives of children in our area will help educate listeners and further our mission.
These are sprinkled throughout our website, but you can catch them all right here:
As you listen to these quick 60-second spots, share them with others who you think might like to know more about who we are, what we do and what it might mean to volunteer.
ALBION — After Thanksgiving meals and holiday shopping, Northeastern Indiana CASA invites community members to participate in Giving Tuesday by supporting the nonprofit in several ways - financially with a donation, volunteering your time or helping spread the mission of CASA by sharing some of our posts on Facebook.
#GivingTuesday is a global day of giving that harnesses the collective power of individuals, communities and organizations to encourage philanthropy and to celebrate generosity worldwide. Following Thanksgiving and the widely recognized shopping events Black Friday and Cyber Monday, this year’s #GivingTuesday will take place on November 27th and will kick off the giving season by inspiring people to collaborate and give back.
Founded in 2012 by the 92nd Street Y – a community and cultural center in New York City − #GivingTuesday inspired millions of people to give back and support the causes they believe in. Over $300 million was raised online to benefit a tremendously broad range of organizations, and much more was given in volunteer hours, donations of food and clothing, and acts of kindness.
“We are incredibly inspired by the way the #GivingTuesday community has embraced this concept for a worldwide movement,” said Henry Timms, founder of #GivingTuesday and Executive Director of 92Y. “As we prepare for November 27, we’re energized and encouraged by the community’s generosity. The levels of creativity, effort and the quality of the new ideas people have contributed and shared are phenomenal.”
Those who are interested in joining Northeastern Indiana CASAs #GivingTuesday initiative can visit www.neincasa.net or call our office at 260-636-6101 . For more details about the #GivingTuesday movement, visit the #GivingTuesday website (www.givingtuesday.org), Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/GivingTuesday) or follow @GivingTues and the #GivingTuesday hashtag on Twitter.
Founded by the team in the Belfer Center for Innovation & Social Impact at 92nd Street Yhttp://www.92Y.org, #GivingTuesday is a global giving movement that has been built by individuals, families, organizations, businesses and communities in all 50 states and in countries around the world. This year, #GivingTuesday falls on November 27. #GivingTuesday harnesses the collective power of a unique blend of partners to transform how people think about, talk about, and participate in the giving season. It inspires people to take collective action to improve their communities, give back in better, smarter ways to the charities and causes they believe in, and help create a better world. #GivingTuesday demonstrates how every act of generosity counts, and that they mean even more when we give together.
To learn more about #GivingTuesday participants and activities or to join the celebration of giving, please visit:
ALBION — After 13 years of leadership, Northeastern Indiana CASA has a new executive director - Kirby Cool.
“I’ve got big shoes to fill,” Cool said. “I know that there is a precedence here and an expectation to keep the momentum going. I’m excited and looking forward to getting started.”
Former Executive Director Kristi Bachman announced in August that she would retire at the beginning of November after 13 years of service. Cool was recently announced as Bachman’s successor and was formally introduced at the nonprofit’s annual volunteer appreciation dinner in October.
“She going to be a great asset to this organization,” Bachman said of her successor. “She brings a new energy and her own ideas and perspective. I think that’s exciting and she’s just what we were looking for.”
Cool comes to Northeastern Indiana CASA after having served with the United Way of DeKalb County. An Auburn resident, Cool has a bachelor’s degree in human services from IPFW, and is self-described as “passionate about lost causes.”
“I don’t give up on troubled situations,” Cool said. “I’ve always been drawn to circumstances that need help and hope. I knew Kristi from working with CASA through the United Way, so it seemed like a good move for me."
Cool joins the nonprofit with a wealth of help and experience behind her in the numerous volunteers, board members, staff and supporters. In the five counties Northeastern Indiana CASA serves, relationships have been forged with judges, law enforcement and court personnel, which will continue to serve the children represented by CASA volunteers as they navigate court and judicial proceedings.
“Kirby is really lucky to have such a great group of people to work with,” Bachman said. Cool quickly replied, “I am so glad to have people who will help me get situated in this new role and can help make this transition really smooth.”
Bachman and Cool worked alongside each other for weeks leading up to Bachman’s last day. Doing so offered another layer of comfort for Cool.
“Kristi has been so great and very helpful,” said Cool. “She’s told me to call her if I get stuck. She’s always giving, even after she’s retired. I know that this organization means so much to Kristi and to the volunteers, and especially the children we serve. It’s exciting to be here, but I feel honored to get to be part of this group’s future. There’s a lot to do and I am ready to tackle it.”
Cool and staff members are already planning a volunteer training session for early 2019. Interested community members that may want to consider volunteering should visit www.neincasa.net to complete an online application. For more information about Northeastern Indiana CASA, visit the website or call 260-636-6101 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
ALBION — If volunteers are the lifeblood of Northeastern Indiana CASA, then Bonnie Schoppman is the heart moving it ahead by example. With 25 years under her belt as a CASA, Schoppman has served well over 100 children.
Northeastern Indiana CASA provides a voice for powerless children involved in judicial proceedings. Volunteers advocate for the child’s best interests and work to improve the child’s circumstances and quality of life. Although Schoppman serves Steuben County, she has also served in some of the other four counties Northeastern Indiana CASA covers - Noble, LaGrange, DeKalb and Whitley counties.
Schoppman was recently recognized for her service at CASA’s Annual Volunteer Appreciation Banquet. During her remarks, Executive Director Kristi Bachman described Schoppman as “special” and “dedicated.”
“She has so much energy for what she does,” said Bachman. “She never stops. She’s like the Energizer Bunny. I am inspired by Bonnie and her dedication for the children she serves. She is headstrong and determined to do what’s best for them. Our CASAs are sometimes the only constant faces our children see, so to have someone like Bonnie be here for 25 years means a lot to all the kids she’s served.”
And Schoppman isn’t read to slow down just yet.
“I’m not looking to give this up anytime soon,” said Schoppman. “I love what I do and I want to do it for the kids that need us. I know that if I just keep going and keep doing, kids have a chance. I don’t want to let them down.”
In her 25 years Schoppman says some things have changed, such as policies and procedures. However, the need still remains and is growing.
“I know we get comfortable in our small-town lives, but there are kids right here that are going through some tough stuff. We need to be there for them,” Schoppman said. “Being a CASA can be hard at times, but it is very rewarding. Even when it’s hard I still want to be here and do this. I really believe in the chance these kids can have when someone comes along side of them and is there for them.”
Schoppman was first introduced to CASA while working at Lincoln Life. A co-worker was involved in the Allen County program and urged Schoppman to explore the volunteer opportunity.
“When I got started, I don’t think I really understood what was all involved. I just knew I had the spirit to volunteer and I couldn’t think of a better way than to invest in children. Who can say no to children?”
Bachman said this long-term volunteer sets a great example for other volunteers.
“Bonnie keeps the communication going,” said Bachman. “She calls and talks to us in the office about her cases so we know what’s going on and she wants our feedback. She works hard at completing reports and making the best recommendation to the judges when she needs to. She goes above and beyond and puts her all into each case she works. She is one in a million.”
Northeastern Indiana CASA served 498 children in 2017 and to date, 530 in 2018. There is a growing trend for CASAs needed in the area. Schoppman says she would like to encourage more community members to get involved and volunteer, and although she is passionate about CASA and its mission, she understands that the volunteer role isn’t for everyone.
“There’s that old saying that not everyone can do everything, but everyone can do something. If you think being a CASA is something you want to do, great! We’d love to have you. But if it’s not, that’s fine too. Just become involved in your community. It’s up to us to make a difference. I just choose to do it one child at a time.”
The next training session for volunteers is being planned for January 2019. To learn how you can get involved, visit www.neincasa.net.
ALBION – It was 13 years in the making, Kristi Bachman’s legacy and impact as executive director of Northeastern Indiana CASA. Recently Bachman announced her retirement and will officially step down from her position at the beginning of November.
“I have learned so much from each and every one of you,” said Bachman to her volunteers at an annual appreciation banquet. “I will always be your biggest fan and cheerleader. Thank you for this wonderful opportunity to have led you on this amazing journey the last 13 years. It has been one of the biggest honors of my life.”
Northeastern Indiana CASA serves five area counties, Noble, LaGrange, Steuben, DeKalb and Whitley, as a nonprofit aimed at advocating for children in the middle of judicial proceedings. When Bachman first joined the nonprofit, she was originally hired by the judges in those counties.
“This program has grown and evolved. I’ve grown along with it,” Bachman said. “There have been so many people I’ve watched give their all to this program and it’s been inspiring. Working with you all has been an honor and a blessing.”
During the annual appreciation banquet, volunteers and board members submitted their own sentiments, which were shared by board members Julie Jensen-Kelly and Margot Phillips.
“Kristi is my hero,” one volunteer shared. “She is the momma bear of this organization. CASA is like one of her children. She loves it, she’s proud of it and she was worked tirelessly to make it the best it can be. Her smile and laugh is contagious. I know I am a better person because she was in my life.”
Another board member shared, “Kristi is an amazing individual who has transformed this program to best serve the needs of children in our community. She serves her community with love and understanding.”
“Thank you Kristi for all of your energy and hard work you have contributed to CASA for so many years,” commented another board member. “You have made our jobs very easy. You have been a driving force behind this organization for so long.”
Jensen-Kelly said, “Kristi has been our executive director for 13 years - that title hardly describes this wonderful lady. The members of the board of directors have worked with Kristi for a collective 60 years. It has been a pleasure and an honor.”
Bachman’s retirement plans were timed with her husband Paul’s retirement and the couple is looking forward to a time of relaxation and time with family. Kirby Cool, of Auburn, will be taking over the executive director position. Cool is coming to CASA after having served with the United Way of Whitley County.
“I am going to miss CASA. It’s been such a big part of me for so long, but I am looking forward to the next chapter of life, “ Bachman said. “It’s probably going to take a bit of time for me to get used to not having to go to the office and do the job. However, I am ready to learn what retirement is like. I am very confident in Kirby’s ability to take over. I feel this organization is in good hands and she’s the perfect fit to take CASA into the next 13 years.”
KENDALLVILLE— Each year Northeastern Indiana CASA hosts a banquet in appreciation of its volunteers. The night features food and entertainment as well as recognition for dedicated volunteers who have years of service.
This year’s banquet had some added highlights. Recently, Executive Director Kristi Bachman announced her retirement after 13 years in the position. The banquet marked her last event with the nonprofit and she took the time to encourage volunteers to “push ahead” with the mission to advocate for children in the five counties it serves - Noble, LaGrange, DeKalb, Whitley and Steuben.
“Because it is essentially my last chance to give you all some guidance and encouragement, I want to take a few moments now to do that,” Bachman said at the dinner. “You’ve got this. You’ve got a foundation through your training, judges that listen to you, a board that will continue to help this program prosper, staff that will support you and most importantly, you’ve got heart for what you’re doing. I know you’ve got this.”
Bachman reported that 498 children were served in 2017 and to date, 530 in 2018.
“Tonight we celebrate the many accomplishments you, our dedicated volunteers, have achieved through the last year.”
As part of the night’s recognition were three volunteers who have a total of 35 years of service between them. Both Susan Hughes and Katie Bowman of LaGrange County have each served as a volunteer for five years. Bonnie Schoppman was recognized for her 25 years of service. Schoppman currently serves Steuben County, but in her 25 years she has worked in several others.
In addition to the recognition given, the incoming executive director was introduced. Kirby Cool, of Auburn, comes to Northeastern Indiana CASA from her previous position with the United Way of DeKalb County.
“I know I have big shoes to fill,” said Cool as she was introduced at the banquet. “But I’m excited, and I know I have a great group of staff, board members and volunteers to help me get acclimated.”
The night’s guest speaker was Ted Westerhof who returned for a second year. Westerhof is the student and employee assistance coordinator for Bowen Center, and is certified in critical incident stress management. Given his expertise, it was no surprise that much of his speech centered around “self-care” and helping volunteers avoid the emotional weight that comes with such a position.
Entertainment was provided by harpist Anna Hagen and food was provided by Bo Doogie’s.
“On the days you don’t feel like you’ve got this, fake it until you make it,” said Bachman in her closing remarks. “Most importantly, for all the children in Northeast Indiana who you have spoken for, and for all you will continue to speak for, thank you…thank you…thank you.”
Last week, staff and volunteers joined together at the 22nd Annual Indiana GAL/CASA Conference for training and discussions centered around this year’s theme - Exceed the Vision. #exceedthevision18
The conference featured a director’s reception at the Allen County Courthouse as well as training topics such as:
What Judges Need from CASA
Helping Older Youth See The Vision for their Future
Seeing Trauma Clearly
No Such Thing as a Bad Kid
The Importance Engaging with the Children You Serve
A large group of staff and volunteers attended from Northeastern Indiana CASA. Our staff, along with Executive Director Kristi Bachman, attended a special session on Friday. Events such as this provides ongoing training and support for our staff and volunteers. New volunteers attend a special training to equip them for their CASA role. This happens twice a year and our Fall training is taking place soon! Fill out an online application to join us!
Recently, Northeastern Indiana Casa staff and volunteers gathered for a specialized training at the Kendallville Library. Topics covered during the day centered around what to do and what not to do as a CASA. The day featured a panel discussion which included area judges and a discussion on working a case study.
The event was facilitated by Jackie Boyle who volunteers as a CASA, serving for more than a year in Noble County. (Read more about Jackie's volunteer story here)
Training is an important part of preparing a volunteer to be better equipped for their role. Community members who are interested in getting involved with Northeastern Indiana CASA should not feel as if previous experience is needed. Fall Training is happening soon and those who want to join as a volunteer should complete an application soon!
Auburn Moose Family Center hosted a golf outing July 22nd at Garrett Country Club to benefit Northeastern Indiana CASA. Sixteen teams participated in the event and at the end of the day, $7,000 was raised for the nonprofit.
"As Director of a program that relies heavily on volunteerism, I am extremely aware of the significance of people who give of their time to help others," said Kristi Bachman, Executive Director for Northeastern Indiana CASA, a nonprofit advocating for children in Steuben, Lagrange, Dekalb, Noble and Whitley counties.
"Your community is blessed to have so many generous people I have had the privilege to get to know at the Auburn Family Moose Center. On behalf of the children throughout Northeastern Indiana that will benefit from your efforts, we sincerely thank them for their generosity."
David Young, Aaron Duzan, Paul Cherry, Tim Kochanski were the winners of the four-man Florida scramble.
The event included a golf outing, lunch, and silent auction to benefit the program. The committee comprised of Scott and Cathy Pepple, Lonnie Fry, Dennis Carper, and Mack Short, worked for many months organizing, soliciting sponsors and teams, and many other responsibilities to put on a "wonderful" event. Other Moose members donated their time throughout the day as well.
"The investment of their time in this outing has been amazing," said Bachman. The group is already planning a second outing for July 21, 2019. See event photos by clicking here >>>
What started as an item on her bucket list became a reality four years ago. Judy Rensch was in a courtroom serving as a juror when she was moved to become an advocate for children.
“I sat in that courtroom and watched a little girl have to go through some pretty serious court proceedings. I kept thinking about her and wondered who would speak for her or advocate for her needs,” Judy recalls. “It was heartbreaking to think of how overwhelming it all had to be for her and how scared she may have been. I knew there was something I could do. That’s when I looked into becoming a CASA.”
Northeastern Indiana CASA serves Noble, Lagrange, Dekalb, Steuben and Whitley counties by providing court appointed special advocates (CASA) for children who are facing judicial proceedings. These adult volunteers work with children and their families to assess the child’s situation and offer valuable insights and evaluations for judges and judicial authorities.
Volunteers can expect to complete an application before attending training sessions before officially taking up the role as a CASA. Training equips volunteers for cases by helping them know how to interact with court reports and at hearings as well as how to conduct interviews with teachers, family members, and other individuals who have encounters with the child.
“It’s a rewarding job,” said Judy. “To know you are a part of their life in such a positive way. As a volunteer I am able to help that child be in the best situation possible – someplace they are safe and somewhere they can feel at home.”
Although some situations end with the child being removed from their home due to court decisions, there are some occasions where parents meet court guidelines in order to have their children returned. Judy said this is something she celebrates.
“I praise the parents that do the hard work needed to get their children back. Even when we are going through the case, I try to be very positive with the parents and cheer them on if they are trying to do the right thing.”
Unfortunately, statistics have shown that children who grow up in volatile homes are more likely to create a volatile home as an adult, perpetuating the destructive, unstable environment they have come to know. This can create a cyclical pattern from generation to generation. However, Judy said she sees CASAs as a “beacon of hope” that can turn the tide for the child.
“The need is there. There are so many children who need us and need more of us,” said Judy. “These parents are lost and so many times you find out they are only repeating what they know from when they were kids. But when we get involved, we can change all of that for the child we are helping. We have the chance to change things for generations to come. We can break that generational curse.”
One of the challenges for a child in these types of cases is the revolving door of service providers. While counselors change and even healthcare providers are different, a CASA is sometimes the only constant face in the middle of a turbulent time for a child.
“There’s a lot of changing faces,” said Judy. “The case can stretch on for a while and that child may see several different people. That in and of itself is hard to deal with if you’re a child and you aren’t really sure what’s going on. When we as CASAs are in the picture, we are the constant smile, the constant friend, the constant face that these kids can depend on.”
Judy went on to say that her influence in the courtroom is vital to the child’s future. As she builds a rapport with the child and learns more about who and what influences her case, she sees the importance of CASAs who offer feedback to the judges.
“I was amazed at how much say we have in the case. The judges really listen to us. That makes me even more motivated to be detailed in my reporting and to really give each case my all. I want to know the ins and outs so that I can really be the best advocate for this child.”
Understanding the importance of a CASA’s role would seem to imply days of paperwork and many long hours in the courtroom. However, Judy said her experience has been more manageable than she expected. With interviews and visits she can schedule on her own time, Judy is able to spend about four to six hours a month on her given case.
“I know there are people out there that want to make a difference but might be hesitant because they don’t feel like they can do it,” Judy said. “But I am here to tell you it is doable. You aren’t alone. There is support and training to guide you through. More importantly, you are needed. There are so many children who are waiting for a CASA but there are not enough volunteers for them. You’re making a difference in the life of a child. You’re making a difference in the future of that child. You’re making a difference right in your own community. You’re getting a chance to be a solution to the problem.”
A fall training session will be offered September 17th in Albion, Ind. Community members who are interested in volunteering should start by completing an application by visiting www.neincasa.net or by contacting Northeastern Indiana CASA at 260-636-6101 or by emailing email@example.com
ROME CITY -- It's an annual event supporters are sure not to miss. Complete with food, drinks and silent auction items aplenty, CASA Palooza is consistently well attended and this year's event proved to be another "success."
The event was held April 20th at Sylvan Cellars Event Center in Rome City, and the night closed with more than $52,500 raised for Northeastern Indiana CASA.
"It's an important event since this is our only fundraiser," said Executive Director Kristi Bachman. "Each year there's more awareness and more support for our mission. It's great to see it growing."
Caterers, restaurants, and other eateries came together to provide tasting stations that varied from Asian fusion cuisine to prime rib to bison meatballs. As crowds tasted and sipped their way through the night, silent auction items were on display to tempt the purse strings.
"It's a fun night with something for everyone," said Bachman. "So many great people came together to make this a success. Our staff, board members, and volunteers go above and beyond. Some of our sponsors are loyal supporters and there are some restaurants who come out year after year to be part of this event. It means a lot."
Northeastern Indiana CASA provides court-appointed advocates for children involved in judicial proceedings. Community members from DeKalb, Lagrange, Noble, Steuben and Whitley counties volunteer their time to be an advocate, working with children to be a voice for them and their best interests in the courtroom.
"The message tonight is simple," said Bachman during her remarks at the event. "It’s about home. The place everyone here will go to at the end of this day. The place we know where to go to at the end of the day. One former CASA child said it like this, 'Home means the place where you don’t want to leave.' In Spanish the word CASA means home. Our goal is to help ensure every child has a safe, permanent home. Your support helps us help these kids get there."
Approximately 350 children are already being served by the nonprofit. However, there are 60 additional children waiting for a CASA. Volunteers are needed and can apply online or by contacting the office. A volunteer training is provided twice a year so volunteers can be best equipped for their role.
"Eight-six percent of our caseload is being served," Bachman said. "The good news is this is almost a twenty percent increase from two years ago. Progress is being made. Every year at this event we focus on children our advocates have helped," said Bachman. "This year I wanted to share some of the children’s stories who don't currently have a CASA."
Bachman referred to a few specific situations such as a five-year-old child in foster care because the mother is "unable to stop using drugs" and the father is "unknown." Currently, there is a family of four children who are temporarily living with their grandparents, waiting for an advocate, while their parents are in prison. Bachman also mentioned a baby, born just last week addicted to opiates.
“Our volunteers are a constant for the child in a time of chaos,” said Bachman. “A child may have multiple social workers, attorneys, therapists and foster placements throughout the life of the case but only one CASA volunteer, which can make all the difference for the child’s future. We just can't urge community members enough to become aware of this need and get involved.”
Photos from the event can be found at www.neincasa.net. Visit the website to learn more about volunteer opportunities and to complete an online application.
ALBION – During National Child Abuse Prevention Month in April, Northeastern Indiana CASA challenges residents in the area to stand against child abuse and take action to support children who have been abused or neglected.
At any given time, there are hundreds of children in foster care in the counties we serve - DeKalb, Lagrange, Whitley, Steuben and Noble counties. These children come into the child welfare system through no fault of their own.
“The number of children in our area coming into our care continues to grow and we aim to meet that need,” said Kristi Bachman, Northeastern Indiana CASA's Executive Director. “Every child deserves the support of caring, consistent, trained adult to help them find a safe, loving home where they can heal and thrive.”
Throughout the month of April, Northeastern Indiana CASA is calling on members of the community to help our program serve more of our area's most vulnerable children. Through social media posts and community involvement, our message is clear - abuse and neglect are not acceptable in our area and we stand together to raise a voice for children who need it.
Without intervention, the odds are stacked against children in foster care. A child with a CASA volunteer, however, spends 20 percent less time in foster care, on average, compared to a child without these volunteers. Studies show children with a CASA volunteer receive more services that are critical to their well-being and are four times more likely to find a permanent home.
“Our volunteers are a constant for the child in a time of chaos,” said Bachman. “A child may have multiple social workers, attorneys, therapists and foster placements throughout the life of the case but only one CASA volunteer, which can make all the difference for the child’s future.”
Northeastern Indiana CASA is a member of the National Court Appointed Special Advocate Association (National CASA), a nationwide network of programs in nearly 1,000 communities. At the heart of the movement are nearly 87,000 highly trained volunteers who advocate for the best interests of more than 280,000 of America’s children who have been abused or neglected. In our area, there are volunteer advocates fighting for the best interests of children, but more children need the care and support of a CASA volunteer.
To learn more about Northeastern Indiana CASA or to become a CASA volunteer, visit www.neincasa.net
CASA Palooza 2018 is slated for April 20th at Sylvan Cellars in Rome City. This event is Northeastern Indiana CASA's annual fundraiser that features tasting stations with food and drinks from area caterers and restaurants. There is also a silent auction with proceeds from the event directly benefiting Northeastern Indiana CASA.
"Last year, with the support and help of generous community members, sponsors, volunteers and business, we raised $48,000," said Executive Director Kristi Bachman. "But we are excited to exceed this number this year. Already we have several business and community sponsors."
This nonprofit organization serves Dekalb, Whitley, Lagrange, Steuben and Noble counties with a focus on advocating for children involved in judicial proceedings. Northeastern Indiana CASA supports and promotes court-appointed volunteer advocacy so abused or neglected children can be safe, have a permanent home and the opportunity to thrive.
"Our staff and volunteers all work to provide a voice for children in our area," Bachman said. "We advocate for their best interests and strive to improve their circumstances and quality of life. What we do has a long-lasting impact on the children we serve, which makes events like CASA Palooza so important in order for us to keep our mission empowered to make that difference."
Tickets to CASA Palooza are now available online. Get more information on the event at www.neincasa.net.
Myrlee Gray: Marking a decade of dedicated service
A decade of service has been fueled by passion and positive impact for Myrlee Gray. February marks Mrylee’s 10-year anniversary with Northeastern Indiana CASA where she works as a Case Manager for the nonprofit providing “a voice for powerless children involved in judicial proceedings.”
In addition to having a caseload of more than 15 cases at one time, Myrlee also offers support and guidance to the organization's group of volunteers. However, it’s the facets of Mylee’s job that won’t be identified on a resume that makes her efforts far-reaching.
“I first became involved with a 14-year-old boy whose parents’ had their rights terminated five years prior to my assignment. There were behavioral concerns and his mother struggled to control her son,” Myrlee said. She remembers the boy telling her that he had lived in different institutions since he was nine years old. He was not told about the decision to terminate parental rights and his behavior reflected a host of emotions.
“He told me was so scared that he slept in the floor against his door, so no one could come in to hurt him. Every time he was placed in a pre-adoptive home he did things so outraged, the family wouldn't want him. He would act out thinking that it was the ticket to going back home.”
Myrlee said the boy continued this behavior for the next three years, all in hopes to return to his mother, but again not knowing or understanding what all had transpired to separate the boy and his mom. This situation was not acceptable to Myrlee.
“I tracked down his grandmother who began visiting him and taking him fishing, but she never offered to take him on a more permanent basis,” Myrlee remembers. “He began writing his mother, but even though that correspondence had been established, he continued getting into trouble.”
At age 17 the boy was placed in a juvenile detention center, and at age 18 he was released. He located his mother and was reunited with her, but Myrlee says the “old behaviors” continued. Now the boy, who has turned into an adult, is in prison.
It would be easy for case managers and volunteers to deem this case a “failure,” but Myrlee continues to hold out hope.
“I take heart that he was reunited with his mother who is his now his only support and any hope for a future when he is released from prison. I think he may possibly have had a better outcome had someone acted as his advocate at the age of nine.”
And that’s what Myrlee does day in and day out. She has spent her 10 years matching children to volunteers, attending court hearings, participating in family preservation programs and monthly child protection team meetings. She is no doubt motivated by that nine-year-old boy, and numerous other children, who need someone to advocate for their best interests and strive to improve their circumstances and quality of life.
Before her role with Northeastern Indiana CASA, Myrlee worked as a nurse. The experience afforded her an inside view of the need that was in her community.
“I heard many stories from children and parents. I heard their struggles and frustrations with the fact that no one really listened to what they needed or wanted. I felt I wanted to be that voice for these kids,” said Myrlee. “Many parents have attorneys who advocate for their rights in court. But a CASA volunteer advocates for the rights, needs and wants of the children. We offer recommendations to the judge to what is in the best interest of the children.”
In addition to the support in the courtroom, Myrlee, and the team of staff and volunteers, keep abreast of services and resources available in the community that might help families and children in need.
“Sometimes it is only a matter of rental or utility assistance, transportation needs, food banks, job training or adequate childcare that is needed to keep children in their homes,” says Myrlee. “CASAs advocate for a child's educational, physical and mental health needs as well as ensure they are successful in life and not falling into negative footsteps of their parents.”
Recent reports have listed Indiana in the top five states that have the highest number of children in custody. Many of these children, more than half, were removed due to drug and alcohol abuse.
“Addiction has led to homelessness. Kids go hungry, they can witness domestic violence, and miss school,” Myrlee says. “These children can become neglected or abused while caregivers are feeding their addictions. When caregivers are arrested, they leave these children with no one to take care of them, so they are placed in foster care.
Through her 10 years of experience, Myrlee says that while the mission of CASA is the same, judges, attorneys and child service organizations have become more aware of the positive influence CASA staff and volunteers can have in the life of the children they serve.
“When attorneys from both sides argue good points for that case, the volunteer can tip the balance so that the best interest of the child is the focus,” says Myrlee. “Children are the future of our communities. By helping these children be the best they can be, we build stronger, more positive communities.”
Seven volunteers recently completed Northeastern Indiana CASA's Fall Training. Twice a year, volunteers gather for training in order to learn how to better advocate for the children they serve.
"This is a valuable training for all of our volunteers," said Executive Director Kristi Bachman. "By coming together to learn, we can support each other in our mission to speak up for children in our area. The training also gives our volunteers confidence to do their best in all their efforts."
Becoming a volunteer takes a few steps, one being an application that needs to be completed.
“We don’t always have to know the answers. There’s great support in the board and staff at our office," said volunteer Brayton Pickard. "What’s important is that volunteers are emotionally invested and want to give a couple of hours a month to a kid that needs them. Anybody can do this. Honestly, with the support and training we receive, you can do this. If you’re thinking about it or are interested in it, don’t build it up in your head. Just realize that it’s your heart that counts most.”
To apply online, visit http://www.neincasa.net/application/
David Lowe recently completed his volunteer training in order to join the ranks of other community members who serve as CASAs for Northeastern Indiana CASA. David was sworn into his role by Judge Rentschler in Whitley County. David is a facilitator supervisor at 80/20 by day and wanted to do something to help children.
If you want a way to get involved in the lives of children right in your own community, consider becoming a volunteer! You can apply online at http://www.neincasa.net/application/