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Fundraiser celebrates 20 years of CASA helping kids

POSTED: May 7, 2009 10:39 p.m.

Over the last 20 years, trained volunteers have appeared in juvenile court to advocate more than 3,000 abused or neglected children in Dawson and Hall counties.

The role of the Court Appointed Special Advocate is separate from the attorneys for the state Division of Family and Children Services or lawyers representing parents in court.

"We are a very neutral third party in that our focus is entirely on the child’s best interests," said Hall-Dawson CASA Executive Director Connie Stephens, who has been with the nonprofit organization since its inception in 1989 and was honored as national CASA Program Director of the Year in 2007. "We want what’s best for these kids."

The Trojan Trot 5K race will be held May 17 at North Hall High School to raise funds for Hall-Dawson CASA and the North Hall drama program.

The money will go toward supplementing the local CASA office’s budget, which pays for staffing to supervise the 147 volunteers who appear in court on the behalf of children.

"The need is great for funding to sustain this agency in these hard economic times," Stephens said. "We’re seeing an increase in the number of needs in our community. More children are being neglected and abused because of the economy."

Hall-Dawson CASA was recently recertified by the National CASA Association in a rigorous quality assurance process that scrutinizes all aspects of the local office.

"This certification says Hall-Dawson CASA has demonstrated to us a strong capacity to provide excellent services to the abused and neglected children within their community," National CASA Association CEO Michael Piraino said in a statement.

Last year, Hall-Dawson CASA volunteers went to court on behalf of 392 abused and neglected children in the Northeastern Judicial Circuit.

In many cases, the children were reunited with their families after the parents conquered substance abuse problems or other issues that led to neglect.

"We rejoice when they’re doing well," Stephens said, noting that drug screens are conducted at CASA’s offices. "We celebrate with them. Because a lot of these kids want to be back with their parents."

"Our goal is to reunify them in a healthy environment. We do support families, as long as they help themselves."

Stephens began with CASA as a volunteer and says 20 years later, she’s seeing the fruits of the agency’s labors.

"I’ve been fortunate to see the impact CASAs had on the lives of children who are now adults, and that’s what’s so rewarding," she said.



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