CASA for Kids of East Texas ramped up its presence in Wood County to bring in more volunteers.
The organization held a meet and greet Monday at its new Mineola office in the First United Methodist Church, 612 N. Newsom St.
“We’ve been serving this area since early 2000s, and we have not had an office here,” Patty Garner, executive director of CASA, said. “While we have had volunteers here and we have staff covering this area, but we have not had an office.”
CASA works as an advocate for children taken from their homes by Child Protective Services. The volunteers get to know the children and their needs, and work to find them places in safe and loving homes, Ms. Garner said. The local CASA chapter covers Smith, Wood and Van Zandt counties.
“We are here Mondays and Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and I would encourage anyone that wants to learn about our program or volunteering to stop in and visit with our case supervisor that is here, or they can also go on our website.www.casaforkidsofet.org ,” she said.
Last year, 14 volunteers advocated for 60 abused and neglected children in Wood County. Ms. Garner said each volunteer is given one or two cases and stay on the case for at least a year. To give each child the attention they deserve, CASA is hoping to at least double its current volunteering capacity.
“We want to serve as many children as we possibly can,” Ms. Garner said. “Our volunteers can make a difference to these kids, and it hurts us to not be able to provide advocacy to every child that needs it because every child deserves it.”
Each volunteer is given a background check and put through a 32-hour training program, which covers the law, how to talk to children and other issues. A portion of the coursework is online and some requires in-person training.
Each volunteer is then assigned to a caseworker that can help answer any question or concern that comes up after the training.
“We have professional staff members who have done this for years and they still encounter things that they have never encountered before — that’s the nature of families and different situations,” Ms. Garner said.
The new office will make operations more efficient, and the organization is looking for a second satellite office for its volunteers in Van Zandt County, Ms. Garner said.
Dr. Darrell Coats, interim pastor of the church, said it is proud to help CASA.
“I couldn’t imagine what it’s like for children without the work they do — we defiantly need that,” he said. “It’s an honor to house CASA here, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s a part of the ministry of the church to be a caring presence in the community.”