UPCOMING INFORMATIONAL MEETINGS
To find out more about the Big Country Court Appointed Special Advocate program, plan to attend one of the following informational sessions. The minimum age to volunteer is 21. Call Rhea Rodriguez at 325-677-6448 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. Read more about CASA at www.bigcountrycasa.org
Thursday, Oct. 26, 6 p.m., Tea2Go, 3562 Catclaw Drive
Tuesday, Nov. 7, 9 a.m., Location TBA
Tuesday, Dec. 5, 6 p.m., Tea2Go, 3562 Catclaw Drive
UPCOMING TRAINING SESSIONS
For those who already know they want to volunteer, seven training sessions are coming up. All training is in the CASA office on the second floor of the Taylor County Plaza located adjacent to the courthouse.
Thursday, Sept. 14, 5:30-7 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 16, 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
Tuesday, Sept. 19, 5:30-9:30 p.m.
Tuesday, Sept. 26, 5:30-9:30 p.m.
Tuesday, Oct. 3, 5:30-9:30 p.m.
Tuesday, Oct. 10, 5:30-9:30 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 14, 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
By Loretta Fulton
The Big Country chapter of CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) is hoping some good folks will show the true spirit of Abilene by signing up for training sessions, which begin Thursday, Sept. 14, on the second floor of Taylor County Plaza next to the courthouse.
Rhea Rodriguez, volunteer and community outreach coordinator, recently held an informational session with four women attending and indicating they will join the 62 other volunteers who serve communities in Taylor County and surrounding area.
Many more volunteers are needed to work with the 376 children who have been removed from a bad home situation in Taylor County, Rodriguez said. That number includes 156 children removed from Jan. 1, 2017, through July. That high number is both bad news and good news.
“The good thing is,” Rodriguez said, “our community has become very aware and more people are speaking out.”
CASA started in Abilene in 2013 under the umbrella of the Regional Crime Victims Center and became an independent nonprofit in 2015.
Volunteers don’t have to have any special background. Some are retired teachers. Some are spouses of Dyess AFB personnel. Others feel called to volunteer as a mission.
Before being certified as a volunteer, applicants must complete 30 hours of training, plus five hours of observation in 326th District Court with Judge Paul R. Rotenberry presiding. Additionally, 12 hours of training are required throughout the year.
The training is worth the time for those who become volunteers. The CASA volunteer may be the only constant in the life of a child who has been removed from his or her home, Rodriguez said. The volunteer is an advocate who stays with the child throughout the entire process of finding a suitable home.
“Our goal,” Rodriguez said, “is to find a safe, permanent home for that child.”
Once a CASA volunteer is assigned to a child, the volunteer meets regularly with the child and anyone involved in his or her life such as parents, attorneys, Child Protective Services caseworkers, teachers, doctors, and counselors.
The children that CASA volunteers work with are in the state’s custody and may live with a relative, in a treatment center, or other facility. The volunteer has total access, Rodriguez said, and can get all the same information that is available to attorneys and Child Protective Service caseworkers.
The one thing the CASA volunteer does not do, Rodriguez said, is choose a home for the child to be placed in. That decision is up to the judge.
The CASA volunteer is deeply involved in the process, serving as an advocate throughout the process until the case is resolved, usually 12-18 months. The volunteer also serves as an investigator for the judge, Rodriguez said, and writes a report for the judge before each court hearing.
“You are the judge’s eyes and ears,” Rodriguez.