This year, for the 116th Kingdom of Callaway Supper, the Heart of Missouri Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) was selected for the the Distinguished Service Award.
CASA volunteers watch over and advocate for children who experienced abuse and neglect to make sure they don't get lost in the overburdened legal system or languish in an inappropriate group or foster home.
"First and for most, we are truly honored to be selected for this award," Callaway County Program Director Suzanne Guerrant said.
Heart of Missouri CASA was founded in 2005 but the organization started in Callaway County in 2013. They recruit, screen, train and supervise volunteers to serve as non-attorney officers of the court who advocate for the best interests of children in foster care in the 13th Judicial Circuit.
Guerrant retired in 2013 from teaching in the Jefferson City Public Schools for 32 years. After retirement, she was trained in May 2013 and then hired for her current position that November.
"In that time frame," Guerrant said, "the number of people we have touched — whether that be families or people we work with or staff members — its made a huge difference within our community. Since 2013, we started with three advocates and three children and as of today we have 36 active advocates advocating for 91 kids, and as of today 211 kids in foster in Callaway County, so when you look at the numbers, we are half way to having a voice for all of the kiddos."
Since starting in Callaway County, CASA has closed 116 cases. Of those cases, 49 children were reunified with a parent, 69 had a guardianship, 30 were adopted, one was terminated, four aged out of the system and in 12 cases CASA wasn't needed.
Not only do they work with the court system and juvenile office, but also therapists, health professionals, schools, attorneys and placement providers.
"So not only do we touch the lives of our kids," Guerrant said. "We touch the lives of all these people we work with because it takes all of us together to help this kids."
If interested, their next training will be October 9 - November 9 on Tuesdays from 5:30-8:30 p.m.
There are two ways to get involved with CASA. One is to become a volunteer. For more information on volunteering, visit www.homcasa.org. The second way to help is to donate. It takes $1,500 to support one volunteer for one year. They are currently advocating for 50 percent of children in foster care. Donations will go towards recruiting, screening, training and supporting CASA volunteers.
"We take their hand and walk with them through the court systems be their voice and change their stories," Guerrant said.