CASA volunteers are appointed by judges to watch over and advocate for abused and neglected children who are in foster care.

*Editor’s Note: This story is an installment in a 13-week series highlighting volunteers and organizations that benefit from United Way funding in the Hannibal area.

Brenda Juette, from Palmyra, believes that people need to quit complaining about things they don’t like and do something. She lives out the United Way of the Mark Twain Area’s motto to “Be the Change,” by being a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer.

Juette has always loved children. Her love and passion, along with faith, led her to become a CASA volunteer.

“God was putting this in my path,” said Juette.

Juette explained that every time she turned on the TV there was an advertisement for CASA. Unsure exactly of what CASA was, but being drawn to the program, she asked 10th Circuit Presiding Judge Rachel Bringer Shepherd during a Bible Study about the program. Judge Shepherd enlightened Juette.

CASA volunteers are appointed by judges to watch over and advocate for abused and neglected children who are in foster care. CASA volunteers ensure a child’s needs are met. They are an extra support person for children in addition to case workers, counselors, and foster parents. A CASA volunteer is active with the child’s court case until it is closed and the child is placed in a safe, permanent home. For many abused and neglected children, their CASA volunteer is the only constant adult in their lives.

Juette and a group of friends all involved in the Faith and Fitness group at the Palmyra United Methodist Church stepped up to become CASA volunteers.

“We all went through the training together. It was good to have a group of friends to do this with and leverage for support,” explained Juette.

After the training, Juette was assigned to a family’s case. The family Juette works with has several children. She meets with those children, makes a connection with them to ensure their physical, emotional, psychological, and educational needs are being met.

She takes notes when meeting with the children and types up a court report. During court proceedings, Juette acts as the voice for the children.

“As a CASA advocate it is my job to be there to support the children and plead their case,” she said.

The children, now in several foster care homes, have grown because of Juette’s efforts.

“One child did not speak, now the child is talking,” said Juette.

She has been assigned to this court case for 16 months and has been there as the children have transitioned through several foster care homes and several case workers.

Juette spends about ten hours a month on her duties as a CASA volunteer. Though challenging and at times frustrating, Juette says she values her position as a CASA volunteer.

“Brenda is a dedicated volunteer who cares deeply about the children she serves,” explained Sarah Conner, CASA Program Director. Conner encourages individuals to consider becoming CASA advocates.

In the 10th Circuit, which includes Marion, Monroe, and Ralls Counties, there are currently 19 active CASA volunteers who work with 37 children.

In these counties, there are over 240 children in foster care and that number continues to grow. Every child in foster care could use a CASA volunteer to be the voice for them in the court system.

CASA, a United Way Agency, equips individuals with a way to “Be the Change.” To learn more about the United Way visit http://unitedwayMTA.org/.

Denise Damron is the Executive Director of the United Way of the Mark Twain Area.