CASA of McKean County has welcomed four new volunteers into its program.
The new CASAs (Court Appointed Special Advocates) — Eddie Buggie, Peggy Larson, Bonnie Fuller and Jennifer Fitton — were sworn in Friday by McKean County President Judge John Pavlock.
In their new position, they will be working with some of the most vulnerable children in the county.
“It gives a voice to the children who are in the welfare system,” said Suzy Meyer-Page, CASA executive director.
The program matches each volunteer with a child in the welfare system, and the volunteer talks with all the people involved with the child, Page explained. This can include family members, people at the child’s school, the caseworker, the guardian ad litem and the children themselves.
They take all the information they gather with recommendations and put together a report for the court. The CASA helps the court determine the child’s needs.
“This is advocating just for that child and giving that child a voice, making sure things are being done in the best interest of that child,” Page explained.
Page is confident the new class of trained volunteers are up to the task.
“I think they’re all going to be great CASA volunteers,” she said.
She said every class that comes through has its own different personality, and “This was a class that was very cohesive and very supportive of each other.” She predicts the group members will remain longtime friends.
With the four new volunteers, this brings the total number of active volunteers to 23, said Page, who noted there are some inactive who may be taking cases.
The goal of the organization is to provide a CASA for every child in the welfare system who has a case. Unfortunately, with about 130 children currently in McKean County’s welfare system, more CASAs are needed.
“We need more volunteers,” said Page.
She said a good candidate to volunteer is also compassionate, nonjudgmental, professional and has empathy for children. Volunteers need to be ready to encounter many types of people through the courts and schools.
Volunteers need to be 21 of age or older, go through an application and interview process, and complete 30 hours of training and a court observation. They must pass a clearance check, too.
The effort that goes into becoming a volunteer is not without its rewards: That person will have the satisfaction of helping local children.
Page said a “universal” trait she finds are that CASA volunteers are “people who end up having a passion for children and (are) wanting to have the best for children.”
Normally, CASA holds training twice a year — in the spring and fall — but this year, three trainings are being offered.
The organization is already planning its next CASA training class, which will begin Sept. 19.
Anyone wanting to take part can either visit www.casamckean.org or call CASA of McKean County at 568-2170. A link to the online application can be found on the website or the CASA of McKean County Facebook page.
Page encouraged anyone with questions to call.
“If they don’t feel they can commit to the full volunteer training and becoming an advocate, they can help in other ways,” Page added.
For people who support the cause but don’t have time available to be an advocate, there are tasks that include everything from helping with events to stuffing envelopes.