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This Week’s LION: Superhero CASA Volunteers

Every child needs a hero. An abused, neglected, or abandoned child that ends up in the court system needs a superhero. They need a dedicated and passionate member of the community who could advocate for them. They need someone who is be committed to ensuring that they would be able to thrive in a safe,

Every child needs a hero. An abused, neglected, or abandoned child that ends up in the court system needs a superhero. They need a dedicated and passionate member of the community who could advocate for them. They need someone who is be committed to ensuring that they would be able to thrive in a safe, nurturing, and permanent home. They need a CASA volunteer.

CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) is a national association in the United States that supports and promotes court-appointed advocates for abused or neglected children. The CASA volunteer serves as the independent, extra set of ‘eyes and ears’ of the court, gathering information from the child, his/her biological parents, foster parents, teachers, counselors, and others. The CASA volunteer then makes recommendations to the judge as to what services or actions are in the child’s best interest.

CASA fills a unique role. Children whose caregivers have failed them, fall into dependency courts through foster care, kinship care, or group homes, which are then served by CASA volunteer advocates. A judge appoints them, and their role is to gather information and make recommendations in the child’s best interest, keeping the child’s personal wishes in mind.

In our area, it is Susquehanna Valley CASA headquartered in Sunbury. The executive director is Tammy Sempko. Tammy is a woman hard-wired to help abused and neglected children. Beginning her career in Children and Youth Services, she then went to organizations helping challenged children and single moms. When the CASA board was looking for an executive director, Tammy was the perfect fit.

I wanted to meet Tammy Sempko to learn more about CASA in our area, and she invited her ‘working board’ to a working lunch with me. There was Sandy Spencer, Marketing/Development Chairman; Pam Mowrey, Fundraising Chairman; Erin Kearney, Program Director; and Dixie Haldeman, Case Manager. I was so impressed with their passion and dedication; I wondered if I was looking at the cast for the next Avengers movie. They really are superheroes, taking on a super task.

Judge Dudley Anderson was the first judge in Lycoming County to request CASA assistance. Since that time, the county judges have recognized their value and requests CASA volunteers for all dependent children that come before them. Unfortunately, there is more need than those stepping up to meet the need. There are currently 34 children who are on the waiting list for a CASA volunteer.

For those who want to get in the game and make a difference in a child’s life, the best place to start is going to the website: susquehannavalleycasa.com. You must be 21 or over and willing to commit to a 30-hour training program, and then be willing to commit 10-12 hours a month to serve as a volunteer under a local CASA volunteer coordinator’s supervision. There is an online application to get started, resulting in a telephone conversation to answer any questions and clarify any information from the application. If all parties agree, the next step would be a meeting (in person or Zoom), and if that goes well — a new superhero is ready to get started.

The great thing is that these can be male or female, young and not so young. Dixie Haldeman retired from Children and Youth Services and became a CASA case manager. She stated this is the most rewarding volunteer work she has ever done for the past seventeen years. Similar responses came from Erin, Sandy, and Pam. Their faces light up like electricity describing the difference their work has done in the children’s lives that cross their path. I had the good fortune to see this from the opposite spectrum as a foster parent. Our foster teens were always excited when their CASA volunteers came to visit.

Superheroes are not born. They are made. It begins with the willingness to make a difference, and then move in a direction to begin to make it happen. Anyone can make a difference. As Margaret Mead once stated, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

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