Tucked away at the far end of the Carson City Juvenile Court on 5th Street sits a small, easy-to-miss office.
Inside are a couple desks, chairs for group meetings, and walls lined with books, backpacks and clothing waiting for kids in need.
It’s the office of Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA, a non-profit dedicated to providing a voice for children in the care of the state due to abuse or neglect.
CASA currently has 26 volunteers, assigned to 60 children, and they need four to five more, said Chris Bayer, director, CASA of Carson City.
Bayer is holding an information hour Jan. 11, 5:30 p.m. at the CASA office, 1539 E. 5th St., to answer questions and provide details on what volunteering entails.
“CASA volunteers make a huge difference,” said Bayer. “While it’s challenging and takes time and some skill and commitment, it is fascinating and meaningful.”
A CASA volunteer serves as a guardian ad litem — an individual appointed by the court to investigate and advocate for the best interests of a child.
The children range in age from infants to teenagers who have been taken from their home, usually from parents with substance abuse or mental health problems, said Bayer.
The child is usually taken into the state’s care and placed either with another relative, a foster home or in a shelter, and within 72 working hours the child’s case is brought before the court.
That’s when the CASA volunteer steps in. The volunteer attends the hearing and begins a process that could last two years or more.
During that time, the volunteer routinely visits with the child, speaks with social workers, teachers and others involved in the child’s life, writes reports for the court and attends hearings where the volunteer’s role is to advocate for what they’ve determined the child needs.
“You bring the common sense, and, wow, is that powerful,” said Bayer.
It can be difficult but rewarding work.
“Once you see trauma and neglect you’re never not going to see it,” said Melanie McCormick, who works part-time with CASA and who serves as a volunteer on five current cases. “But I get to be a part of their lives and to make a difference.”
McCormick said some people are intimidated by working in the court system, a world they’re unfamiliar with.
“At first it’s a mass of information and you just have to take a breath and get to know the child,” said McCormick. “You need to be a friend.”
CASA volunteers go through a 10-week training, meeting once a week for three hours.
They also have a background check, paid for by CASA, and an interview.
“People are welcome to come, hear about it, do the training and learn,” said Bayer. “There is no commitment until I call and ask them to take a case.”
CASA also needs donations of like-new, clean clothing, especially for boys aged four to six years old.
Also, donations can be made via credit card or PayPal at the CASA web site, www.casaofcc.org.
For more information, call CASA at 882-6776 or email at email@example.com.
To learn about becoming a foster parent, contact State of Nevada Division of Child & Family Services at 888-423-2659 or online at www.dcfs.state.nv.us or www.facebook.com/childsjourneyhomeNV.