ALBION – “I get so much more than I ever could give back,” said Margo Phillips a Northeastern Indiana CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) board member. After more than 10 years of service, Phillips is set to retire her board seat and is moving from the Lagrange area where she currently resides.
“I am involved in several things around the area, but it is really tough to leave CASA,” Phillips said. “If we weren’t moving out of the area I don’t know if I’d ever give it up.”
Phillips joined the board of directors at a time of change and transition for the non-profit. Northeastern Indiana CASA provides a voice for children who are involved in judicial proceedings, advocates for the child’s best interests, and works to improve their circumstances and quality of life. The organization serves Noble, Lagrange Dekalb, Steuben and Whitley counties, but 10 years ago, this cause was overseen by the area judges.
“I remember going to a meeting where the judges were going to hand this off to the community members. I didn’t know much about what it was about, so I Googled it,” said Phillips. “I was really touched when I heard CASA was about giving children a voice. I didn’t always have a voice when I was a kid. I liked the idea of kids having rights, having someone be there for them and having a chance at life.”
Having volunteered in other areas of the community, Phillips saw first-hand the need for community members to come along side children who were not always in a positive home environment.
“We automatically assume that these parents struggle with addiction or that they are poor, but these kids come from all sorts of backgrounds,” Phillips explained. “Whether it’s financial strain, addiction or volatile relationships, these children need a home that is stable and that can offer caring support and a nurturing environment.”
In her decade of service, Phillips has witnessed many “success stories” that touts the positive impact of Northeaster Indiana CASA. From corporate leaders to influential community members, Phillips has seen adults who built a life and give credit to their CASA volunteer for their success.
“These adults only have a chance because of their CASA,” Phillips said. “Yes, they may have been moved to a foster home or even a boy’s school, but their CASA was there every step of the way. Our greatest resource is our kids. If someone will say ‘I will be here for you,’ it means the world. Many times, these kids have nothing else otherwise. They need someone to be there, to support them and to care. Our CASAs are people who have a direct impact on the destiny of a child.”
Phillips not only enjoys the work Northeastern Indiana CASA does with children, she has also “cherished” the time she has spent with other volunteers, board members and staff. She has developed a respect for the organization’s executive director Kristi Bachman.
“Kristi is filled with energy and love for these kids,” Phillips said. “She shares each pain and each joy these kids experience. She cries with them and celebrates with them. She has so much of herself invested in this cause.”
During her time as a board member, Phillips received several awards and recognition for her service and dedication to the non-profit. However, she is quick to share the honors with her fellow board members and volunteers.
“Our volunteers amaze me. They are so dedicated and committed,” said Phillips. “It’s great that we make such a difference and that we have such amazing support, but it stinks that we have to do this kind of work. Maybe someday things will change, but for now CASA is making a real difference.”
Given that Northeaster Indiana CASA serves somewhat rural counties peppered with small towns and communities, it might seem as if the need for CASA’s mission is not necessary. However, Phillips knows that the need is great and more volunteers are needed.
“This isn’t just something that happens on television or that happens in bigger cities,” she said. “I’ve heard these kids. I’ve seen their faces and I’ve heard their stories. This wasn’t something that happen off in some other place. I’ve sat 10 feet from them and heard it first-hand.”
Phillips said CASA volunteers want to see parents get the right tools and support to be the best for their children. It is “great” when a volunteer can help keep a family intact.
“I could have been a CASA kid,” Phillips said. “I say ‘but by the grace of God, there I go.’ Who will step up? We can make a difference and pay it forward. That’s what I wanted to do and that’s what I feel like I’ve done. There’s no change in just wishing things were different or by turning a blind eye to the need. Change comes when we come together to help each other and to break the cycle so our kids’ futures are better and brighter.”
To learn more about Northeastern Indiana CASA or to volunteer, visit www.neincasa.net.