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2012-01-12

HC CASA has continuing needs - Courier to serve as drop off site for stuffed animals

By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff Writer

This year, the Bandera County Courier will act as a community liason with HC CASA.

The Courier office will serve as a drop off site for new stuffed animals that CASA volunteers can use to comfort their clients during traumatic experiences. "We hope to collect these toys throughout the year to help our kids," said Courier Editor Judith Pannebaker.

Hill Country CASA, which stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates, began in 1989. It is one of the oldest of 70 CASA organizations in the state. "All of them are working hard," said Executive Director Diane Oehler, at keeping at risk children from "falling through the cracks."

The CASA volunteer has a wide-range of activities and responsibilities while serving as the judge's representative. The volunteer has the same responsibility to report suspected cases of child abuse as a teacher. The volunteer becomes familiar with the background of the child's case and the child's current situation.

The CASA will visit the child in foster care, or wherever the child has been placed, to make sure the child is doing OK and that needs are being met. Sometimes the CASA handles mediations to resolve a family situation for the benefit of the child. While the majority of child protective cases are civil cases, sometimes the case will be elevated to a criminal case and the CASA may be called upon to testify in court.

Oehler supervises almost 100 volunteers who work as officers of the district court system covering Bandera, Kerr, Kendall and Gillespie counties. Of the hundreds of cases HC CASA handles annually, Bandera County, unfortunately, comes in second of the four counties, with about 24 percent of the caseload.

Anyone interested in becoming a Hill Country CASA volunteer can contact them at 309 Earl Garrett Street, Kerrville, 78028-4529, or by calling 830-896-2272 or email them at hccasa@ktc.com. Prospective volunteers are given a pre-application interview, followed by a background check. If cleared, the volunteer undergoes a series of training sessions. Once all of these steps are completed, the volunteer is sworn in as an officer of the district court. All cases are supervised by the director and her staff.

The Hill Country CASA has a 99 percent approval rating from the judges, attorneys and other professionals it works with. And, it has a 95 percent retention record on its volunteers. "I think it's because once they complete that first case, they're hooked," Oehler said. "CASA is one organization where volunteerism rises to a high level of professionalism."

Volunteers can take as many cases as they feel comfortable with. Casework can be scheduled around vacations, or even extended absences from Texas, so Snowbirds are welcome. Volunteers' education levels range from high school graduates to post-graduate degree holders.

New stuffed toys may be dropped off for CASA children at the Courier office, 1210 Hackberry Street, in Bandera, during regular business hours.