When a case enters the 10th Judicial Circuit Court, children are often caught in the midst of the proceedings. But they have someone to listen to them, comfort them and work to resolve each case with the best possible outcome — a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer.

When a case enters the 10th Judicial Circuit Court, children are often caught in the midst of the proceedings. But they have someone to listen to them, comfort them and work to resolve each case with the best possible outcome — a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer.

Four area volunteers recently completed 32 hours of training and participated in two hours of court observation, to prepare to take on their first cases where they will offer constant support to children during transitions such as foster care; interview each child, family members and professionals in their lives; and work closely with the 10th Circuit Court, the Missouri Department of Social Services Children’s Division and other entities to gather information and pursue the best outcomes for the children and their families. CASA Volunteer Coordinator Alex Jennings commended the four volunteers for their dedication, noting that the program is constantly seeking more volunteers to help make a difference for children.

Jennings said CASA volunteers are currently working on 62 cases in the 10th Circuit, which encompasses Marion, Monroe and Ralls counties. Currently, 209 children are in the care of the CASA system. After the four volunteers gathered in front of 10th Circuit Court Presiding Judge Rachel Bringer Shepherd to take their oaths Monday, July 17, she explained the vital role that CASA volunteers take on in the lives of children, their family members and everyone involved in the case. Shepherd noted that the entire judicial system is composed of human beings — and no one is perfect.

“It can be very frustrating to be a CASA, and you can say ‘Wow, this system’s not perfect, I’m upset with this system,” she said. “But that’s why we want you involved, because we want you to help make the whole thing better. That’s how we get better, if we’re all playing our parts — and your role is to advocate for the child — and that’s such an important, important role.”

Shepherd thanked the volunteers and told them that they can ask questions or receive help from her or members of the Juvenile Office any time. She emphasized that CASA volunteers help keep children safer and achieve positive results for them in each situation they face. The four volunteers all agreed that they were eager to take on their first case and make a difference in a child’s life.

Grace Stiles, from Palmyra, said she looked forward to providing a voice for children who wouldn’t otherwise have one during a difficult situation.

“I’m excited to be able to help the child make their way through the court system and work with the child,” Stiles said.

Stiles is enrolled in college, so she will help in the 10th Circuit and continue to volunteer with a CASA program regardless of where she moves.

Laura and Nathan Markley brought their baby daughter, Eliza, with them as they took their oaths. Laura Markley said she has a degree in social work, and she felt the CASA program was a perfect fit so she could make a difference in the community while balancing her time as a stay-at-home mom. She said she was excited for her new opportunity, noting she knew about CASA for years and the timing was right to volunteer with her husband.

Markley said she looked forward to taking the training and observation and “seeing it in practice” — leading up to the time they get to meet the children and give them the help they need. Nathan Markley said some cases are quite lengthy, and families sometimes grapple with problems for several years.

“I don’t imagine that we can come in and just fix everything and make it perfect, it takes a long time,” he said. “But it’s nice to be part of a system of people who really care about the kids and the families — trying to make families more whole again. That’s exciting. It’s neat to be part of.”

Eric Jung, from New London, shared why the cause meant so much to him.

“My heart just goes out to foster kids, kids who are without their family,” he said.

Jung said he was looking for a way to help children, and CASA was the first program he found that was an ideal fit. He is eager to help a child who is facing a rough time in their life. All of the representatives involved with the CASA program were thankful to welcome four new volunteers, but Jennings stressed that more volunteers are always needed.

For more information, please call Jennings at 573-221-3890 ext. 280 or by email at casa2@douglassonline.org. Jennings said everyone goes through a background check and interview process before the training. Once the training is complete, each volunteer is certified and ready to take their first case. Jennings said she felt happy to see the group of eager volunteers joining the cause, as she led her first training session.

“I’m really excited about it, because it’s such a need, she said. “I personally feel CASA makes such a difference in the kids’ lives that we work with. I think that I have a good group here, and I’m excited to see how they do as they get assigned cases.”

Reach reporter Trevor McDonald at trevor.mcdonald@courierpost.com