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Help wanted: CASA seeks more volunteers

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By John Barnhart

Retirement can be a good time to give back to the community.

    Vicki Bertrand moved to the Bedford area after retiring from United Parcel Service. She had worked for 35 years and had finished her career working in security and loss prevention. Bertrand said that UPS had always been big on supporting United Way and she always felt that, once she retired, she wanted to give time as well as money.
    “Working with kids seemed like a good way to help,” she said, explaining why CASA drew her interest.
    In the two-and-a-half years that she has been a CASA, she has worked with 25 children. This comprises a total of 11  cases  as  some  involved  multiple siblings.
    CASA volunteers often handle more than one case at a time. Bertrand’s first case just closed.
    CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocate and Bertrand’s job is to provide information to the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court in cases where children are involved. The judge makes the final decision on matters such as whether children go back to their parents, go into foster care or are adopted. A CASA helps provide the judge with information that helps him make that decision.
    “At times advocates find information that the judge doesn’t have from other sources,” Bertrand said.
    CASAs work closely with the county’s department of social services. Bertrand and social services share what they know with each other. Sometimes, they disagree and this is why she needs to be assertive, although she also needs to be prepared to explain why she disagrees.
    Bertrand said that a CASA also needs to be organized. This is because there is a lot of paperwork involved.
    She said her work at UPS has helped her.
    “You don’t just accept what you see on the surface,” she said. “You have to dig for the facts in all cases.”
    Along with doing CASA investigation, Bertrand has also been a valuable helping hand to Angela Skarp, the Bedford CASA office’s advocate manager. She puts in between four and five hours each week doing computer work and updating records.
    “She chooses to do the additional volunteer work above and beyond the three cases she already has,” said Skarp.
    Skarp needs more CASAs. She said that the court currently has 75 children who need CASAs, but Skarp only has enough volunteers for the court to assign a CASA to 30.
    The next training class for CASA volunteers begins on Sept. 2. The classes are held on Thursday evenings from 6 until 9 p.m. and finishes on Nov. 11. In previous years, potential volunteers from Bedford had to drive to Central Virginia Community College’s Lynchburg campus, but this year the class is being held at the Bedford Group Homes, just off Falling Creek Road.
    Another option is to do independent study with Skarp. This is what Bertrand did. The independent study option allows volunteers to study at their own pace and this made it possible for Bertrand to complete the work faster.
    For more information, contact Angela Skarp at (540) 586-4932, or by e-mail at angela@cvcasa.org.