BERLIN — Worcester County’s Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program celebrated its 10th Anniversary last week with a special breakfast for volunteers that included performances by Most Blessed Sacrament school choir and Stephen Decatur Middle School students showcasing their play, Nifty Fiftys.
After a decade the program is going strong and nearing its goal of providing services for 100 percent of youth in the court system in Worcester.
“It’s amazing to see the growth in 10 years,” said CASA Program Director Brigitte Saulsbury.
Since coming to Worcester in 2002, CASA has expanded from an original base of three community volunteers to 56 this year. According to Saulsbury, 217 youth in the county and surrounding area have been served by CASA volunteers who have contributed roughly 40,000 hours to the program.
The service provided by CASA includes coaching, support and a one-on-one volunteer to advocate for a child caught up in the court process, usually as the result of a troubled home.
The goal of the agency is to reunify a child with family whenever possible or to place them in a safe, caring foster home when that is not an option.
Currently, CASA is able to advocate on behalf of about 92 percent of in-need youth in Worcester but hopes to expand that number well before they celebrate their next 10-year anniversary.
“Our goal is to be able to serve 100 percent of children in Worcester County,” said Saulsbury.
To reach that mark, Saulsbury said that community support in the form of volunteers and private donations are critical. Also important is the continued backing of Worcester Youth and Family Counseling Services (WYFCS).
“CASA wouldn’t be around without WYFCS,” admitted Saulsbury.
WYFCS serves as an umbrella agency in the county and CASA is one of the many programs that fall under its mantle. According to Saulsbury, WYFCS Executive Director Teresa Fields is the “backbone” of the entire operation.
Fields called last Friday’s celebration of a decade of CASA a “milestone” and reiterated Saulsbury’s goal that the next step for the program is to reach and maintain 100 percent coverage of county youth.
Fields also pointed out that CASA is nearing another milestone. In May, officials plan to swear in their 98th volunteer.
Even after CASA hits the 100 percent point, Fields said that it will take a continuing effort to match the growing needs of the community.
“We have to keep up with the increase [of new youth cases],” she said.
WYFCS Director of Development and Donor Relations Stefanie Gordy agreed.
“A lot of people don’t realize how many kids are in need in Worcester County … we always have more kids than CASA volunteers,” she said.
While everything depends upon community volunteers giving their time, Gordy stressed that, without enough funding, CASA can’t function.
A large portion of the money that the agency receives comes from matching grants, where CASA must raise a portion of the total through either private donations or fundraisers before the government contributes its piece.
The biggest fundraiser of the year for CASA will take place May 18, 5-8 p.m. at the Sunset Grille. Deemed “The Pirate Party,” the event will enter its fourth year and will feature music, food, drink specials, prize giveaways, a costume contest and, of course, pirates.
Gordy said all of the money raised through the event “stays local” and goes towards expanding and maintaining CASA services.
For more information on CASA, The Pirate Party, or to learn how to become a volunteer visit http://www.gowoyo.org/court-appointed-special-advocate or call 410-641-4598.