For Sheila Tabron, formerly of North Carolina, a TV commercial drew her to volunteering to help children through the Capital Area Court Appointed Special Advocate Association.
Tabron was unpacking in November 2015 after moving to Zachary when she saw the commercial talking about CASA’s need for volunteers.
The Capital Area Court CASA program recruits, trains and supervises men and women who advocate for abused and neglected youth living in foster care to help them reach safe and permanent homes.
Tabron had recently moved to Zachary to be near her daughter, who was starting a job at Southern University.
“I was excited to see they needed volunteers to advocate for children,” Tabron said. “Helping children has always been something I’ve desired to do.”
After 12 years of working with adults in the criminal justice system in North Carolina, Tabron said she wanted to be a part of the development of younger lives to perhaps “steer them in a more productive direction.”
“Back in North Carolina, I was an eight-year member of the Juvenile Crime Prevention Council. We were a community group that distributed funds to county programs aimed at reducing or preventing juvenile crimes,” Tabron said. “Real-time involvement in the actual lives of children is probably always more complicated and more emotional than one would imagine.”
Her first case, which involves three siblings, was assigned in April but she met the brothers for the first time on June 11.
“I’ve got three boys, brothers, to mentor instead of the usual one child, but I like communicating with their foster mother and learning about the area from her perspective,” Tabron added. “They’re great. Despite their previous living conditions, such as no running water or electricity, they managed to attend school and still make excellent grades.”
Tabron provides the boys with outlets and options, she says, such as attending local sporting events or festivals with them. The benefits of volunteering with the agency includes lifting a child up, feeding the soul, giving back to the community and helping a children reach their potential, she said.
“The bottom line is that children are our future, and we should invest our time in them and love in them,” she said.
According to Jennifer Mayer, of CASA, all volunteers are asked to commit to at least a year or serve on a case until it’s closed.
“The children we serve have already experienced so many changes and have had so many people in and out of their lives that CASA does not want to be a contributing factor to that,” Mayer said.
Though some cases don’t take quite a year, others last longer, and each case is different.
A child achieves permanence when he or she is reunited with the biological parent(s), the child is adopted or custody is transferred to a relative. A case also closes when a child “ages out” at 18, said Mayer.
“A lot of our volunteers stay beyond a year because they want to see their cases through, but once a case is closed, volunteers can decide whether they’re finished or if they want to take another case. Many will take a break for a few months and come back for another case,” Mayer said.
The example Mayer provided is that of CASA volunteer Kim Littles, also of Zachary, who is about to enter her 10th year as a volunteer.
While teaching in the Zachary school system, Littles said she met a CASA volunteer on career day and thought she herself would make a great volunteer.
The mother of six children, Littles attended a CASA orientation and said it was one of those issues that continued to tug at her heartstrings.
“I knew that to whom much is given, much is required, so when I thought of my own autistic son, I knew I had to help as many children as I could to live productive lives,” Littles said.
Though she’s never volunteered for anything like CASA before, she has been involved in autism organizations the past 13 years and was the ZHS Interact sponsor for nine years, so volunteering and putting service above self is always at the forefront of who she is, added Littles.
“Volunteering as a CASA is fulfilling most times, but other times, it’s emotionally draining. Especially when you hear the children’s stories. It’s hard to believe that some parents don’t want to give their children the best lives they can,” said Littles. “It is amazing that you have to have a license to teach, be a doctor or lawyer and to fish or hunt but not to have children.”
She has seen lives changed while volunteering for CASA, and though some of her cases may not turn out like she expected, as long as she does her best and advocates for the child to the best of her ability, she knows it’s been a success.
Mayer said there is no special background or education required to become a CASA, though volunteers do undergo training and each works under the direct supervision of someone on the CASA staff.
“We accept people from all walks of life because our kids come from all walks of life. The minimum age to become a CASA is 21, but other than that, we are looking for people who are willing to get involved and to learn and for caring individuals who want to make a difference,” added Mayer.
Presently, 87 volunteers serve 164 children through CASA. In 2015, CASA had 152 volunteers and served 330 youth.
To learn more, visit casabr.org.