In case you haven’t heard, DECU’s 2018 charity of the year is Macon County CASA. Macon County CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) is a local non-profit (an affiliate of the national program) that provides volunteer advocates for abused or neglected children in our local court system.
Here at DECU, we love CASA. Unfortunately, we think this great organization is still a bit of a secret around Decatur. We sat down with Julia Roundtree Livingston, current Director of Development and incoming Executive Director, and current CASA advocate Lacey Avioli, to discuss the impact CASA has on our community.
“I love the opportunity to offer children someone who cares. Every child should have someone who cares.” – Julia
It’s an unfortunate reality that many children in our community do not have someone who cares and supports them. While their life may be constantly changing – between foster homes, schools, communities – their CASA gives them a constant.
Lacey explains, “I have really enjoyed the relationship that I have built with my [child] and I know even if I don’t see her again I helped her in some way. It has been a great learning experience and I will continue to be her CASA and a CASA for another child in the future.”
“The most difficult part of being a CASA advocate is the understanding that although it’s our first instinct, we CANNOT fix everything for a child in their life.” – Julia
After our conversation, this is the concept that stuck with me the most. It’s easy to think we can jump into a child’s life, change everything so that their life reflects what we are used to, and then everything is good. But, that’s not a reality. This is a tough lesson all advocates must understand. Instead of trying to ‘fix’ things, CASA’s role is to create the best possible situation out of the child’s current life and state. Julia explains, “We CAN take a lot of action towards making this happen, but we must be willing to be okay with the results we are able to affect.”
Lacey found that to be one of the more difficult parts of the gig. “She has had a hard life way before I came into the picture and no matter how hard I tried I can’t change her past and I have to realize that.
Also weighing on her is the realization that these children have gone through so much at such a young age. “It is hard to see how children so young have had to deal with so much and have had to grow up too fast,” Lacey explains.
Lacey isn’t in the volunteering game for the reward, but those rewarding moments make the hard times worth it. When she first started volunteering, Lacey requested a young child. Having a career in child development has made her most comfortable with younger kids. Shortly after completing her training, she was assigned to the case of a fifteen-year-old girl. “I was so nervous,” Lacey said. “[what if] I did not know how to talk to her.”
Thankfully, her experience was the exact opposite. Lacey’s child opened up almost immediately. She enjoyed chatting about her boyfriend, friends, and all the school drama. Lacey stepped out of her comfort zone, but “would not change who my child is at all.”
Lacey has some advice for those considering becoming a CASA: “Go for it! Step out of your comfort zone! You will get a lot out of it yourself as you help a child that may not have anyone they can trust or talk to.”
As you may have guessed, a lot of training is involved in becoming a CASA. Volunteers must complete a 6-week, 30-hour, hybrid training. The training covers everything from the child welfare system to court report writing and more. Volunteers must also complete a background check and fingerprinting. Julia explains that this is done, “to ensure that becoming a CASA advocate is a good fit for the volunteer as well as to ensure that the volunteer is a good fit for CASA.”
Lacey acknowledges that the training can be intimidating. However, it’s a great training that totally prepares volunteers for the job ahead. And as far as being too busy to help out? Lacey says she works a 40 hour/week job and has an 18-month-old at home and she’s still very involved with her case. It definitely takes time and patience, but if you’ve got the passion then you’ve got the skills.
CASA understands that a training and 8-15 hour/month time commitment is unrealistic for some people. If that’s the case, there are other ways to help out! They often use Facebook to put out calls for volunteers to help prepare mailings, man the annual playhouse raffle booths, sell raffle tickets, and volunteer at CASA’s summer camp.
Monetary donations are always helpful as well. $1,200 a year supports one CASA advocate who can be assigned to assist multiple children. According to Julia, “With CASA advocates on a child’s case, that child’s case closes 8 months faster with the child moving to a permanent home (i.e. reunification with biological parents, adoption, guardianship, independence). Supporting CASA’s work makes financial sense for our community, too, as each month a child is in the court’s care, it costs taxpayers $5,000 per month.”
So how does DECU help CASA? Through our members, of course! In 2018, some members can choose to skip a loan payment by donating to CASA. We’ve also held three fundraisers, all benefiting CASA, with the Decatur Christmas Parade being the fourth (see you there!). DECU employees also enjoy volunteering at our CASA fundraisers.