OTTUMWA — Cara Galloway, Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program coordinator, watched with pride Wednesday morning as seven people officially pledged to fulfill their CASA roles at the Wapello County Courthouse.
“I was really excited,” Galloway said. “I’m proud of the work that we’ve done as Southeast Iowa CASA. “There’s an excitement too that we’re going to be working with more kids in our communities here. We’re going to be helping families, we’re going to be really helping the kids and families be healthier and the communities.”
CASA is a program that has been around for decades. It allows citizens to volunteer their time and efforts to advocate for children’s best interests in court.
Volunteers give as much time as they can to advocate for a child assigned by a court judge. They train in six modules, totaling 34 hours. After they complete the training hours, volunteers have 12 hours of mandatory training each year.
Galloway said there have never been this many to pledge their roles at the courthouse.
“It’s the largest that we have ever done,” Galloway said. “We were supposed to have nine but due to other circumstances they couldn’t come. We’ve never had this big of a group be sworn in at once. We just had callings from a lot of people to step in and be that advocate.”
Ethan Lake, one of the new advocates, felt that he needed to step in after relocating to Iowa from Chicago four years ago. He searched for a program he could give back to and thought CASA was a good fit.
“Community service and volunteer service is something that is deeply rooted within me,” Lake said. “I kind of just felt a calling to it because children need just an extra voice to advocate for them, hearing about the CASA program and what they do resonated with me.”
Growing up in Chicago, Lake encountered lots of foster kids in the inner city schools he attended. The interactions he had with them and children of various backgrounds is what also inspired him to take on a CASA role.
“I was still able to recognize that there’s a need for advocates and for people to give these children a voice and help them feel heard,” he said.
Just as Galloway was excited to watch the new advocates accept their roles, Lake was thrilled to take his position as a CASA advocate.
“I’m very excited mostly excited slightly nervous just because we’ve gone through the training and it’s prepared us immensely,” Lake said.
Kim Ardueser, one of the new advocates agreed. “It’s a new job and you’re nervous for a new job,” she said.
Galloway and Lake have high hopes and strong ambitions for seeing the program grow.
“My ultimate goal is that every kid that is involved in the juvenile court system has an advocate for them,” Galloway said. “I want to evolve our program in order to grow into not just CASA and Foster Care Review Board, but [think about] what else we can do to protect our children, what else can we do to make our community stronger and what else can we do as a program to better our children’s lives in our community.”
“After going through the CASA program and this training, it’s become very real to me,” Lake said. “These children are scared and really that I think my main goal is to generate awareness of this program and what we do and how we impact children’s lives in a positive way. Once we spread that word and generate that awareness this volunteer program is really going to grow. I’m excited to really make that difference in children’s lives, but then also to hopefully grow with this program to help spread that reach.”