The Easton Community Foundation is committed to recognizing and supporting organizations that make Columbus a better place. We do this through various efforts, including Change for Charity. You may not know it, but every coin dropped into a meter and parking ticket paid at Easton helps fund local charities.
The local charity for July and August is Court Appointed Special Advocates of Franklin County, also known as CASA. To learn more about their efforts to support the greater Columbus community, we sat down with CASA’s Director of Development and Marketing, Kevin Greenwood.
What is CASA’s mission?
CASA’s mission is to provide a consistent voice for abused and neglected children in the Franklin County Juvenile Court System.
When a child is identified as being a victim of abuse or neglect, they are removed from the home. By Ohio law, they have to be appointed a guardian ad litem, which is a Latin term that means literally “guardian for the lawsuit.” In Franklin County, the courts have two choices. They can appoint a private attorney as the guardian ad litem, or they can appoint one of our CASA volunteers.
In either case, the children are getting great representation. The difference is private attorneys may have dozens of cases, and our CASA volunteers are assigned one or maybe two at most. Because of that, we are often entrusted with some of the more severe cases of abuse and neglect.
Our volunteers work with one of our staff case managers and a staff attorney. They visit the child on a monthly basis and listen to them to ensure their needs are being met. Any time there is a case involving that child, our CASA volunteer is in the court room. The judge will ask his/her opinion on what they think is in the best interest of the child.
Last year, in Franklin County, there were approximately 2,700 cases of child abuse and neglect. Our team served 869 of them. While what we do is wonderful, it’s also bittersweet because we wish we didn’t have to. One of our goals is to try and break the cycle of abuse and neglect.
What is the process for becoming a CASA volunteer?
We’re always recruiting volunteers! We have some volunteers that have been with CASA since almost the first day when we opened in Franklin County 27 years ago. Most of the cases we work on average 24 months in length, and we try not to change the volunteer assigned to the case because we want that child to have consistency.
Once a person expresses an interest in volunteering, we have an interview with them and they fill out an application. They supply us with references, they are finger printed and they go through a background check. After this, they complete a six-week training course. If everything checks out, there is another interview at the end of the training period and the individual is sworn in by the court. After this, they are an officer of the court and are given a case within three weeks.
Does CASA hold any events?
Our big annual event, the Speak Up for Children Breakfast, is coming up on September 28 and it’s free! It’s at the Renaissance Columbus Downtown Hotel, and doors open at 7 AM. There is networking from 7:15-7:45 AM, breakfast begins at 8 AM and we guarantee you will be out the door by 9 AM.
It’s an opportunity for us to share with the community the great work being done by our CASA volunteers. This year, Tracy Townsend from 10TV is our host and our keynote speaker is Rita Soronen, President and CEO of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption.
Rita was one of the first executive directors of our organization back in the 90s, and she has always been a great advocate for us. At the end of the event, we share with folks that they have an opportunity to help. They can help by becoming a volunteer, by donating to help us provide training for new volunteers or by spreading the word.
What do you love about being a part of CASA?
When I came here, I was so impressed by the volunteers and the staff. The fact we had 243 volunteers last year and 13 staff members, and we were able to serve 869 abused and neglected kids, blew me away!
Everyone does it because they love what they’re doing and they feel like they’re making a difference in the world. I’ve been in non-profits my whole life, and I can’t say I’ve ever seen an organization that has been so true to its mission. There are some bad days, but there are also great days where you know you’ve made a difference and you’ve helped a child on his or her way to a better life. It’s a great place to be and I am so proud and humbled by the work our volunteers do.
What have been some of CASA’s biggest accomplishments in the past five years?
Being able to serve 869 children last year was a huge accomplishment for us. We also recruited more volunteers last year than ever before. We recruited, trained and swore in 102 volunteers in 2017 and are on track to do the same this year. The court also invited us to help them with a new program that focuses on the childhood victims of human trafficking. From our perspective, the biggest accomplishments are seeing children being placed into better situations. Those are the things we get the most excited about.
What does it mean to be a part of Easton’s Change for Charity program?
It’s been absolutely wonderful. It’s opened up so many opportunities for us and has provided funding which will be used to train new volunteers to serve more kids. Easton has given us so much visibility through signage and advertisements on the kiosks and meters. We’ve been able to get in front of so many more people, companies and tenants at Easton. We’ve been given chances we wouldn’t otherwise have, and it has raised our profile within the community. When your name is associated with Easton, people take notice. So, we’re so grateful for that. It’s such an awesome program.
How can people support CASA aside from volunteering?
They can support by donating and making the community aware of the great need of so many children in our area—that there are children out there who need somebody in their lives to speak up for them.