Article originally appeared in the Culver City News on February 21, 2014.
In honor of African-American History Month the Mayme Clayton Library & Museum, located at 4130 Overland Ave. in Culver City, will host CASA’s (Court Appointed Special Advocates) Superhero roundup on Saturday, Feb. 22 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The Mayme Clayton Museum, which houses the largest collection of African-American artifacts west of the Mississippi, will host the event with CASA in an effort to highlight the critical need for volunteers to give a voice to children in foster care.
“A big part of what we do is educate the community,” CASA’s Executive Director Dilys Garcia said. “When people realize that there are children that are alone that need help and that there is a way of helping them, there is always a certain kind of person attracted to that.”
In Los Angeles County 28,000 children have cases in dependency court because their parents abused or neglected them. CASA recruits and trains volunteers that are interested and dedicated to working with children in foster care.
For many foster children, a CASA volunteer is the only adult who focuses exclusively on them and their future during the traumatic times in their lives. Most volunteers will stay with a child for the duration of the case in the legal system.
“Our goal is to create awareness in the community of what we do and what our mission is and the great need that we have for advocates for all of the 28,000 children that are in foster care,” Community Outreach Director Gracia Shaheen said. “That is the number one goal for this event. Second, it is a call to action to the community.”
Courtney Barr, a San Diego State graduate who moved to the Los Angeles area a year ago, first heard of CASA on campus but didn’t commit because she knew she would be moving.
Having experienced hardships during her childhood, Barr wanted to volunteer and help kids who were in a difficult situation.
“It is truly one of the most fulfilling things that I have been involved with, to be honest,” Barr said. “It is amazing and I always talk about it at work and I tell people to do it.”
The California Foster Youth Education Task Force reports that 1,500-plus youths age out of care in L.A. County each year. Statistically speaking, at the end of 2012; less than half will have a high school diploma or GED, half will be unemployed, one-infour will have been incarcerated, primarily for prostitution and/or drug offenses, at least 40 percent will have been homeless for some period of time or one-in-four will have become a parent before the age of 20.
CASA works to change these statistics by stabilizing the child’s condition in all areas of their lives through the hard work and commitment of volunteers that become advocates for foster kids. Volunteers are asked to make a two-year commitment when becoming an advocate.
“Part of what we do is give them (volunteers) a good immersion into what it is going to require,” Garcia said. “The time commitment is one of the first thresholds where people have to examine whether or not they are willing to do that.
“The reason is that it takes about two years for most cases to make their way through the dependency court system and we don’t want to change volunteers on kids anymore than is absolutely necessary,” Garcia said.