CASA-EP advocates receive 35 hours of initial training and ongoing support from CASA staff.
CASA – Court Appointed Special Advocates – grew out of an idea developed by Seattle judge David Soukup in 1977 to appoint volunteers to advocate for the children in the neglect and abuse cases he was presiding over in his courtroom. Today, there are now more than 90,000 CASA volunteers nationwide. Locally, CASA of the Eastern Panhandle (CASA-EP) serves Berkeley, Jefferson, and Morgan counties. Michelle Sudduth, Executive Director of CASA-EP, describes the role of a volunteer advocate as “the voice of the child in the courtroom and an advocate for the child outside of the courtroom as well.” She noted that volunteers “interact with the children on a personal level, often becoming mentors, help with job applications, college applications – we’ve even had a volunteer who was asked to walk a former client down the aisle at her wedding.”
“It’s very meaningful work and our volunteers come from all walks of life,” Sudduth continued. “We attract people who are moved to help these kids, who are great problem solvers, and who can work in a complicated system. We have teachers, retired business people, police officers, lawyers, even a flight attendant. We provide the training – it’s 35 hours – and it’s very comprehensive.” Dan Clarke, a board member of the organization remarked that it was the training that “sold me. You go through real cases and learn how to think as an advocate. This is not your typical volunteer role. It requires a level of detail and commitment. But you have an amazing level of impact in each child’s life.” Darah Kehnemuyi, also a volunteer, described how meaningful his experience as a volunteer has been: “you have the chance to be the one adult in a child’s life that makes the difference. Each case is very meaningful to me too – it warms my heart.”
Sudduth noted that CASA-EP has roughly 70 volunteers — and she could double that and still not meet the demand. “We had requests to serve 328 children in 2020 (in our three county area). In 2021, we had 453 requests. We’re also starting a new program, Fostering Futures, to work with older clients to help them with life skills before they age out of the foster care system. These kids learn from our volunteer mentors, but they also benefit from sharing their own experiences with their peers”
Visit MyCASAEP.org for information about volunteering or making a financial donationBy Staff Contributor