While local fundraisers have given leaders of the Court Appointed Special Advocates program some reason to be optimistic about the group’s future, it will take major corporate donations and new sources of grant money to keep the effort alive.
Six representatives of CASA, which provides volunteer legal services for abused and neglected children in Boone County, detailed the challenges facing the program during a forum at the MU Black Culture Center on Wednesday night. The forum, hosted by MU doctoral student Paul Foreman’s social work class as part of his yearlong project, also allowed the CASA members to raise awareness of their efforts.
CASA in Boone County began in 2005 and won a $40,000 grant from the national CASA program. It got a second $40,000 grant in 2006, but the national program requires local chapters to come up with their own funding after two years. That means the Boone County group will be on its own beginning July 1.
The two paid employees of CASA, program director Liz Beasley and volunteer coordinator Liz Craft, are doing what they can, spending much of their time filling out applications for new grants, soliciting corporate donations and organizing fundraisers. Earlier this year, CASA raised about $4,000 by auctioning MU football tickets, restaurant gift certificates and other items. An MU baseball clinic for children in April raised about the same amount. In June, CASA will host a fundraising party at the Orr Street Gallery with drinks, raffles and live music.
Beasley said the group plans to hold all three events every year, but proceeds from those efforts won’t be enough to meet the group’s goal of $103,000.
“As far as fundraising, that is not really where you receive your major support,” Beasley said. “What we need to have is some major corporate and local donations, and we also need to have grant funding. ... Without that, our program will not be able to sustain.”
In spite of the challenge, both Beasley and Craft remain upbeat.
“Columbia is a very giving city,” Craft said. “There are a lot of people willing to give time and service to the cause.”
Boone County’s CASA group has 38 volunteers who work with abused and neglected children placed in foster care or “kinship homes.” Volunteers undergo 30 hours of training in subjects such as family law, child development, substance abuse and poverty. They act as guardians in court, helping judges make decisions that in their appointed child’s best interests.
Dan Prater, a spokesman for the Green County chapter of CASA, said the personal attention and care that CASA volunteers give each child sets them apart from deputy juvenile officers or other system professionals, who often represent up to 150 children.
“We have a strong connection with the court system,” Prater said. “Our primary goal is to provide information to the courts so when the judge gets on the bench with a folder 6 inches thick about a case that has been going on for four years, he has someone who can tell him what is going on, someone who has been working with the child for years.”
While the number of volunteers has steadily grown in CASA’s first two years in Boone County leaders hope it can recruit far more. There are 200 children in Boone County who need advocates, Craft said.
“To grow, we need more funds,” Craft said. “Our goal is to represent every child in Boone County.”