Cass County CASA present to the Dowagiac Rotary Club

DOWAGIAC — Going through the court system can be a confusing, overwhelming experience for a child. Because of this, a local organization works with Cass County children going through the foster care system to help them navigate the process.

Cass County Court Appointed Special Advocates, known as CASA, presented to the Dowagiac Rotary Club Thursday, during the club’s regular meeting. The presentation discussed what CASA is and does in the community and the experiences of volunteers who work for the organization.

CASA is a nonprofit organization separate from the court system. Cass County CASA was founded in 1995 by Chief Judge Susan Dobrich, with the first volunteers trained in 1997. Volunteers are trained extensively to work with local children in the foster care system. As advocates, volunteers work with children assigned to them by the court, learning about their circumstances and helping them to find a foster family or become reunified with their biological parents. In addition to serving as a voice and an advocate, CASA volunteers often serve as mentors and friends to their children, according to Program Director Erica Boulanger.

Currently, Cass County CASA has 22 active volunteers and is serving 17 children.

“[The volunteers] are essentially the children’s voice in court,” Boulanger said. “We always have their best interests at heart.”

Two volunteers with CASA also visited the Dowagiac Rotary Club Thursday to talk about their experiences with volunteering for CASA.

Volunteers Brooke Artley and Kellie Chaffee said they work closely with their assigned children, working to connect with them through activities and similar interests so that they can advocate for their needs in court.

“What these kids are needing is somebody to listen to them, spend time with them and get to know them,” Artley said. “In their cases, they are involved with a lot of adults who may never meet them or get to know them. So, when we are with our kids, our job is to listen and to be their voice. That kid knows he can trust me and that I will do what I say I am going to do.”

Chaffee, who is currently working on her first case, agreed.

“These kids need this kind of support,” she said.

Before the program ended, Boulanger took time to thank Rotary Club members who have supported CASA over the years.

“This is a fabulous program,” she said. “Without the support of organizations like this and [local judges] that is what really drives us to be successful at what we do.”

To learn more about being a volunteer advocate or a board member for CASA, contact Boulanger at (269) 445-4431 ext. 1 or email casscocasa2@yahoo.com.

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