Friday, December 22, 2006

CASA volunteers sacrifice vacations and risk their safety to be a voice for children

CASA celebrates 20 years of advocating for kids -
Volunteers keep tabs, report to the court system
Dawson, Carlos. Lexington Herald-Leader, Nov. 8, 2006, pg. D3.

The Court Appointed Special Advocates, which represents children removed from their homes as a result of physical and sexual abuse or neglect, will celebrate its 20th anniversary with a gala at 6:30 p.m. Friday at the Embassy Suites.

The invitation-only event will feature nationally known speaker, artist and author Minara Warburton, WKYT anchor Renee Charles as the master of ceremonies, and a performance by Ukiah.

The Fayette County CASA group, one of many nationwide, was started by former district judge Don Paris in 1986. The non-profit group -- with a 20-member board of directors -- currently assists more than 70 children with funding from the Lexington Fayette Urban County Government Department for Social Services, grants, fund-raising and donations.

Director Debra King, who was a social worker for about 25 years, credits volunteers for the success of the program. The group has about 50 volunteers, all sworn officers of the court, from various educational, social and economic backgrounds and careers, including teachers and pilots. "We provide 'a voice' for the children in court," King said.

She said many of the volunteers sacrifice their vacations as well as their safety. Some volunteers might have to visit risky places, under staff supervision, where parents might be involved in drug abuse, might present of threat of physical violence or might suffer from mental instability. Despite the risks, the volunteers contributed more than 1,000 hours of assistance last year.

Volunteers Jean Addleton and Virginia Atwood are retirees who wanted give back to the community."The kids touch my heart all the time," said Addleton, a former real estate agent.

Atwood, a former UK College of Education professor, worked in education for more than 30 years."I felt like I have an impact on the children's lives," Atwood said.

Volunteers inspect kids' living arrangements -- with family members, in foster care or in residential or treatment centers -- and collect other information about their well-being. The volunteers report to the court system.

King said the anniversary festivities will acknowledge the organization's longevity and the work of volunteers.

CASA holds the "Light of Hope" candlelight vigil each April to highlight child-abuse prevention month. The group also collaborates with the Crowne Plaza to distribute Christmas gifts for the "Angel Tree" project and joins with Fayette County elementary schools for "Coins for CASA KIDS."

For more information about the group, call (859) 253-1581 or go to Volunteers who were not notified about the gala should contact Debra King for invitations.


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