“They need a voice. Not a system. They need someone to be their champion. That is where we can help.” – Marci Fehlhafer, director of Southeast Nebraska CASA
What is CASA?
CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocate and is a national organization that trains and equips volunteers to support and be a voice for children who are neglected and abused. A child in the foster system may have multiple caseworkers and multiple foster homes, but the goal for CASA is to have one CASA volunteer – that unchanging voice that stays for the entire case.
What do volunteers do?
Volunteers go through 30 hours of training before being appointed by a judge. The volunteers are committed to a specific case, and ideally, they follow that case all the way to the end. The volunteers meet with the child at least once a month, attend family team meetings, and attend court hearings. If they notice that the home is unsafe, the child’s needs are not being met, or
there is a problem, they can report on behalf of the child. On average, volunteers give 10 hours per month. You must be at least 21 years of age to be appointed to a case.
How do CASA volunteers make a difference?
CASA volunteers see the children they serve every month, giving the courts a more grounded awareness of the child’s situation. They are stable, consistent, and unbiased reporters. They also have the time to dedicate themselves to the smaller, sometimes overlooked, needs of the child. Instead of seeing the child as a number, the volunteers are in a position to see the child on an individual level.
The Southeast Nebraska CASA office has been located in Seward County since 1996. The office supports Seward, Saline, Thayer, Gage, and Jefferson county. They currently have 30 volunteers that are serving 53 children. 10 of those volunteers are in Seward and they serve 17 children.
When Marci Fehlhafer, the current executive director of Southeast Nebraska CASA, stepped into the position in 2016 she had a goal to have a CASA for every kid in all five counties by 2025. “We have come a long way, but we do not have it yet,” she says.
Lisa Lindau, the new Program Coordinator, and Sonia Almodovar, the Training and Recruitment Director, note that there is more to be done to attract more volunteers and donors, but they are on their way. They have started a podcast called CASA Talk that highlights key and important stories. In the midst of COVID, they made sure all of the volunteers had the necessary skills and information. “There has not been a break for our volunteers because of COVID,” says Fehlhafer.
They offered virtual training for both new and existing volunteers. They also provided masks and hand sanitizer to the volunteers if they felt comfortable visiting the children during the pandemic, but they also provided virtual options for visiting the children as they wanted to make sure the kids still felt connections with their advocates.
CASA volunteers make a real difference in the lives of children in need. In one instance, Fehlhafer explained that a volunteer had caught word that the teenager appointed to her had grown out of his shoes. She called the department but was told that the clothing budget was used up for the month. She called Southeast Nebraska CASA and Fehlhafer recommended Foster Friends,an organization who helpsprovide clothingfor youth inSeward. The volunteer replied, “He deserves new shoes.” “It was something so simple. It is making sure that they get to be the kid and get what they need. The volunteer sees their need and says this is wrong. He deserves to feel like a teenager,” Fehlhafer explains. The volunteer sees the child as a person.
At the moment, there are still 10 kids who need a volunteer in Seward county. If you would be interested in becoming a CASA volunteer, Marci encourages you to fill out an application on their website, give the office a call, check out their social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) , or listen to their podcast for more information. If you would be interested in donating to the non-profit, there is a donate button on the website.
Address: 1313 285th Seward, NE 68343 (They are in the same building as the Department of Health and Human Services) .