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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Giving back; Businesswoman gains satisfaction from being a CASA volunteer

Friday, February 1, 2013

Deb McKenney
Like many people, Deb McKenney leads a busy life.

But according to her, not too busy to be a volunteer for the Bourbon County Court Appointed Special Advocates, an agency formed in 1990 that provides trained volunteers who advocate for children who have become involved in juvenile court proceedings as a result of abuse, neglect or divorce.

The local resident juggles volunteering for the agency with her work as co-owner of Fort Scott Broadcasting and Radio Shack, as well as her involvement in several local clubs and organizations.

"I'm involved with a lot, but I hold that (CASA) closest to my heart," she said.

Why? McKenney said serving as the voice of a child in the court system and bonding with each youngster has its rewards.

"Whatever you put in as a volunteer, you get triple-fold back," she said. "Whether it's a hug that says, 'I love you,' ... you make a difference in a child's life. There's nothing like being a CASA volunteer."

Bourbon County CASA Program Director Christa Horn said the agency recently began its 23rd annual volunteer recruitment campaign, and is searching for "caring and determined individuals from the community to train to become advocates for abused or neglected children involved in the court system" after being placed in protective services.

The agency doesn't advocate for juvenile offenders; all the children in the program are victims of abuse, neglect or divorce and in need of care, Horn said. The program's goal is to find a safe, permanent home for the child.

"Ninety percent of case assignment is for whatever reason, things are going on with the caregiver or family and they can't adequately provide care for the children," she said.

Horn said the program's need for volunteers continues to grow.

"You get a lot out of it," she said of being a volunteer. "Self-satisfaction, that feeling of playing an important role in a child's life."

Horn said she has about 23 volunteers active on 43 cases, but adding about seven more volunteers would be ideal.

"I have 28 volunteers, but in reality I have about 23 that are actually active volunteers that take cases," she said. "The caseloads are higher than normal."

Last year, the agency had 24 volunteers assigned to 65 cases. Horn said her active volunteers are "busy all the time.

"Having new volunteers is really essential and important every year to continue to meet the demand," she said. "We want these children to have a CASA volunteer. Every child deserves that. A lot of cases we can't accept because there is no volunteer available. We want all kids here to have a volunteer."

Horn said the agency works with youth of various ages, "from birth to 18 years of age, babies, teenagers, grade-schoolers, pretty much the whole age range."

McKenney said she has served as a CASA volunteer for six years.

"I got involved because I had four children. I've raised children all my life and they all went away to college and got married and left home," she said. "I basically have a background where I was raised by just my dad and understand the importance of adults in a kid's life that can make a difference. I've been blessed with lots of good people in my life and I wanted to give back. I get back more than I've ever given to it."

Volunteers for the program must be 21 years of age and "have a desire to want to be part of a child's life, especially during a time of crisis, and speak up for that child's interests," Horn said.

"There is no real special skill set or education needed," she said. "Volunteers are from all walks of life and occupations. It's something anyone can be a part of."

Volunteers are required to see the child they are working with a minimum of once a month.

"Volunteers usually have weekly contact with the child," Horn said. "An hour a week is the time commitment; sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on the case."

McKenney said she is currently spending "a lot" of time with the child she advocates for, whose parents "are no longer involved" in the child's life.

McKenney said she typically still hears from young people she has worked with in the past.

"They taught me more than I could ever teach them," she said. "A CASA worker is the only person involved every single week in the child's life, the only constant that never changes."

The judge is usually good about listening to recommendations for the child from the CASA worker, McKenney said.

The agency is in its recruiting stage, and anyone interested in serving as a volunteer may call Horn at (620) 223-2407, 215-2769, or email her at bbcocasa@cpol.net, and she will send them all the information they need, including what it means to be a volunteer, what the volunteer's role is, background checks and the interview stage. Once these steps are complete, the volunteer can begin the required training.

The six-week, 30-hour training sessions begin Monday, April 1, and will continue for six consecutive Mondays, Horn said.

Horn said since May 1990, local CASA volunteers have advocated for more than 740 children. One-quarter of the agency's funding comes from the state, while the rest comes from local donations and grants.

"The community is good every year," she said.

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