My name is Sheila Anders. I originally joined CASA of the Eastern Panhandle as a volunteer in 2016. However, I became inactive when I was diagnosed with breast cancer for a second time. After successful surgery and chemo, I decided to rejoin CASA in 2019, when I realized my work as a CASA volunteer was not finished.
And I’m Kathy Barker. My co-worker, Sheila, first introduced me to CASA when she was going through volunteer training. It was after reading an article in The Journal newspaper in 2019 about CASA-EP and the urgent need for more advocates that I felt led by God to also become a CASA volunteer.
We are a co-CASA team. We work for Wee Disciples Christian Academy, where Kathy is Director of Business/Finance and Sheila is a preschool teacher. Having dedicated over 20 years each to early childhood development and education, we both felt a calling to help children who are caught up in unfortunate situations involving abuse and neglect.
Initially, we worried that our jobs might prevent us from being able to dedicate enough time and energy to effectively support the children we represent. However, because we both have such a love for children and the desire to help and support those in need, we knew that together we could make a difference. Working as a co-CASA team ensures that at least one of us can attend all hearings and necessary meetings. We rely on each other to share ideas and recommendations. With the help and support of our Volunteer Supervisor, we are learning new ways to ensure our kids and their families are receiving the best support possible.
Being a CASA is not always easy, and at times it can be frustrating. It has been particularly challenging in the age of COVID-19 where physical interaction is limited. However, with each case we are assigned, we know we are making a difference in the life of that troubled child. We work to provide emotional support to each child, so they know that someone cares and is going to stand by them as they make their way through a confusing legal system. Our Hearing Reports speak to the Court on behalf of that child. Most importantly, we want to give them hope and be the one person they can count on no matter what!
Our first case was such a positive experience for us. We supported a little boy who was born to a mother with substance abuse issues. Her disease made it impossible for her to care for herself or her son. This little boy was incredibly fortunate because he had loving grandparents who were 100% dedicated to adopting their grandson and raising him as their own. Our job was to provide as much help as possible to represent this precious child, to be his voice, literally and figuratively. He is now in a stable family and receiving the love that every child needs and deserves.
Our second case is a young girl whose family has been ravaged by ongoing drug abuse, resulting in neglect and a very unstable home. We are present at court hearings to ensure that her needs remain the foremost priority. She and others involved have a lawyer to represent them, while our role is to be there to voice her best interests and desires. We also work with DHHR and the school system to ensure that she is receiving educational services such as speech or occupational therapy to help with developmental needs. We will continue to advocate for her as we all work toward a permanent, safe and loving home.
We had not planned on taking on an additional case. However, our CASA Supervisor asked us to consider becoming an advocate for an 11-year old girl in desperate need of someone to help her during a critical time in her development. Every child you represent touches your heart in many ways. However, this young girl has really made us appreciate the importance of the CASA organization. Imagine being 11-years old and in your entire life, you’ve never known a safe and loving home; all you’ve known is foster home after foster home, facility after facility. She has been let down by every adult she has ever known. As a result, she has put up self-protecting barriers because she doesn’t trust anyone. She’s never known love and as a result, she doesn’t know how to love anyone, including herself. It’s heartbreaking to watch her struggle as she tries to find her place in this world through a judicial and welfare system that she can’t begin to understand. As her advocates, we will stand by her and with her for as long as it takes to help her see that she is worthy of love, that she should have hope for a brighter future, and that she is not alone in this world.
Why do we volunteer as Court Appointed Special Advocates? We advocate because we have been blessed in our own lives and have an overwhelming desire to give back. We are fortunate to be able to help innocent and hurting children who need a helping hand. Through our CASA work, we continue to feel blessed ourselves and strive to be a blessing to each of our kids.