CASA of Lycoming County celebrated its 10th year of working for children who need guidance navigating the court and foster systems with a dinner at 33 East on Thursday evening.
About 150 "CASA" - or Court Appointed Special Advocate - volunteers and supporters attended the event, which served as both a fundraiser, a time to remark on the group's local beginnings, and a time to get excited about the future of CASA here, as the group merges with the CASA groups in Northumberland, Snyder and Union counties to make a more efficient and effective organization.
Judge Dudley Anderson, one of the original steering committee members in Lycoming County, delivered the keynote address.
Renee Barbee takes a photo of a portrait on display of her CASA family while her daughter Katira Barbee, 12, watches from behind.
"At the time we started this, there was a cadre of very good caseworkers at Children and Youth, but they were getting complaints from the school districts and such about reaction time," Anderson said.
The judge shared a story of a caseworker who was found to have not made the visits to a home that he claimed, and so the judge had to rule against a petition to remove a child from a home.
"If I find the caseworker not credible, I have to deny a petition and leave a child in a house where there's potential jeopardy. I'm caught between my role as a trier of evidence and protecting the child. That's the sort of thing that keeps you awake at night," Anderson said. "That's why you need someone who's advocating for the child."
After working from 1998 through 2001, attempting to find an umbrella organization and funding, the CASA steering committee received a start-up grant from the Williamsport/Lycoming Foundation of $25,000 and a home at the YWCA.
"We had to restore a good relationship with Children and Youth," Anderson said. "Their people go into neighborhoods where the police
go in with guns and Kevlar vests, and they go in with nothing but their wits and dedication, and they're removing children. The purpose of CASA and Children and Youth is not in lockstep - CASA advocates for the children, and Children and Youth looks at the whole family."
Now the "state of affairs has never been better" between the two organizations, Anderson said.
"The first case assigned to CASA was a baby, the mother had had her during a break from her factory shift and thrown her in a trash can," he said. "She went to a foster-to-adopt home (and) she was the center of their universe. She was nurtured very well and she prospered."
"When I first came from New York I said, 'You can't call this a city - there's no escalator,' " said master of ceremonies Sascha Feinstein. "You forget because it's so easy to do so that abuse and neglect happen everywhere. CASA operates with mostly volunteers, and they do so by providing spiritual nourishment."
For more information, or to volunteer with CASA, call Executive Director Judy Jones at 322-4637.