The month of September evokes change in the United States. It heralds the arrival of pumpkin spice and apple cider, new school years, and new hues in the foliage, sweater weather, and evenings next to the fireplace.
But for those whose memories go back at least 18 years, September brings up memories of a catalyzing national tragedy, known today as both Patriot Day and National Day of Service and Remembrance.
In the days immediately following September 11, 2001, communities small and large around the country, and around the globe rallied in support of one another. A year later, the nonprofit MyGoodDeed founded National Day of Service and Remembrance to rekindle that feeling of unity and honor those who lives were lost.
After becoming federally-recognized and codified into law in 2011, the National Day of Service and Remembrance is now an international movement, encouraging communities to come together every year in tribute to the fallen and in service to the struggling.
Locally, Porter County CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) is calling on regional residents to consider volunteering in the service of some of their most at-risk neighbors— children suffering from unstable or dangerous home situations, and who find themselves placed in court-mandated care, most often away from their families. CASA volunteers provided 4,735 hours of service to Porter County children last year.
“When someone volunteers with CASA, they are not only stepping up to fulfill a societal obligation to make sure an innocent child’s rights and needs are well spoken for in court, they are also learning valuable lessons from the children they serve, and about themselves and others,” said Sarah Fink, Director of Porter County CASA.
“CASAs regularly say their volunteering is a way to give back, or pay it forward, or that it is a privilege to advocate for children who come into the court system due to no fault of their own,” Fink continued. “We know it is also a service to our community.”
According to Fink, the Porter County CASA program is actively working with an average of close to 200 children at any given time. Last year, over 350 children were determined to be “in need of services”, most were removed from their homes, and just over half were younger than five years old.
Children that young are particularly vulnerable, she explained, because they aren’t able to articulate and advocate for their own needs. They are also going through a fundamentally formative period in their psychological and emotional development during which nurturing, dependability, and support are crucial.
“There are children who need someone dedicated to being in their corner. Children need to feel hopeful, even for just a moment, that they matter and that their voice is important and has meaning,” said volunteer advocate Cecilia Snyder.
“We know kids will not just ‘grow out’ of childhood trauma. Our volunteers advocate for what children deserve and need: stability and permanence in order to thrive and develop into the individuals that they all have the potential to be. We advocate for timely, safe permanency at CASA because we know childhood will not wait,” Fink said.
“I love building relationships with my CASA kids,” said advocate Kristi Soto. “I get to hang out with them, hear about their day, and really get to know who they are as a person. I want to be that one constant in their life, that safe place in an otherwise chaotic time.”
Advocating for children through the CASA program creates deep, long-lasting positive impacts on all those involved, but especially on the kids.
“It’s amazing to see what happens to a child when they know that there really is someone who cares. I’m not perfect, but I’m perfectly able to be a CASA and do what needs to be done,” said volunteer advocate Annie Gonzalez.
For volunteers like Christina Costas who see what is happening to families in their communities, the CASA program provides a way to harness their energy and put it to work where it is most needed.
“Rather than just feeling sad or concerned, I am able to take action and actually do something to help kids that have been victims of neglect and abuse. As a CASA I can help make a difference for some of the most vulnerable in our community,” Costas said.
CASAs come from many different backgrounds and stages in their own lives. Some, like volunteer Kathy Madden, choose to share their retirement with the program.
“I'm making a difference and being an advocate for children whose lives have been upended through no fault of their own,” Madden said. “I felt my experience with children and my desire to do something meaningful made being a CASA a perfect fit for me.”
Others, like Amy Turner and Jody Sroga-Lyp, build their service around full-time work schedules which helps them stay connected to the Region.
“Because I work remotely during the day, my exposure to the at-large community is really limited to my interactions with family, neighbors, and friends in the area. Being a CASA ensures I don’t lose sight as to what is going on in our overall community and some of the issues it currently faces,” Sroga-Lyp said. “We all know ‘it takes a village,’ and being a CASA allows me to help be a small part of the village.”
Turner said she highly encouraged anyone wanting to help children to consider joining the program.
“It is doable even if you work a full-time job,” she said. “There is always time in our schedules. It comes down to priorities. Make helping children and their families a priority in your life. You will NEVER regret a single moment.”
Director Sarah Fink recommended a number of ways to support the Porter County CASA program:
- Talk with friends and neighbors about the effects of the drug epidemic on Porter County children, about the role of CASA advocacy, and recommend it to others.
- Consider volunteering yourself. Find out how by coming in to speak with a staff member.
- March with Porter County CASA at the Popcorn Parade.
- Contribute monetarily to ensure our program development goals can keep pace with growing demands.
- Become a partner by sponsoring Continuing Formation series or other events.
- Sign up to have your business host a CASA presentation to your employees.
- Sign up to host a Wine and Cheese or Desserts Recruitment/Info Meeting at your home.
- Donate in-kind professional services if you or your business has expertise from which the program might benefit.
- Vote for leadership that will support the Porter County CASA mission.
Fink also suggested additional ways to help children at risk in the Region:
- Visit and peruse the website Prevent Child Abuse Indiana here.
- Consider becoming a foster parent through one of the following foster agencies:
- Register to vote and support policies that support families.
In honor of the upcoming National Day of Service and Remembrance, Porter County CASA challenges you to pick up the phone and make at least one call on September 11, 2019, to find out more about the needs of children in your community.