15-year volunteer shares love through service
During the holiday season, we are often reminded to be thankful for what we have and seek opportunities to give to those less fortunate.
One volunteer in the community has lived those sentiments through efforts with CASA, Court Appointed Special Advocates.
Rene Roberts, who donates her time with bookkeeping and other services to the program, also serves as an advocate for children who need someone to speak for them in court.
Roberts, who has been volunteering with CASA for 15 years, said she is so thankful for her family, both growing up and as an adult, that to extend her blessing of a positive family to others has always been part of her.
“I can remember when I was a child the first time I had a friend who wanted to invite me over, but she had to ask her mom first, to make sure there was enough food to feed an additional person,” she said. “That was the first time I realized not every family was like my family. We were blessed and always had enough – not that there were not tight times, but there was never a question of our needs being provided.”
Because not every child lives in an environment such as the one Roberts grew up in or has been able to provide for her family, she said it is important to serve others.
“So many of the cases we see through CASA are so much more drastic than food insecurity. These children have often never experienced what it is like to really be loved in a healthy way,” Roberts said. “They come in with abuse, tragic backstories and so much trauma. It can be heartbreaking, but what is more heartbreaking would be to do nothing.”
Cynthia Martin, director of CASA, said Roberts has been a tough and tender case worker.
“She has had some very difficult cases, in fact she had the worst case of abuse that we have seen, and her ability to connect with the children and show them love and care, it is like witnessing a miracle to watch the progress some of the children have made because of having Rene as their advocate.”
Foster parent Kristi Smallwood agrees that Roberts is a valued volunteer.
“Rene is amazing. She truly took the time to get to know our girls, and really our entire family.” Smallwood said. “We have a biological child who is the same age as our adopted children, and Rene always made sure all the children felt included and important. She fought for the best interest of our girls and we are thankful for her everyday. She has become an extended part of our family.”
Volunteers like Roberts are always needed to serve as CASAs, especially with more cases in the area than there are advocates to assist.
“This type of advocacy can be heart wrenching and tough, because so much trauma and abuse has occurred” Martin said. “Because of that, we understand not everyone can be or should be a CASA. However, there are other ways to support the children and the CASA program.”
Additional ways to get involved may include donating gifts or treats for CASAs to give to children, gift cards or other monetary donations, or sharing information about the program.
CASA volunteers are appointed by judges to advocate for children’s best interests. They stay with each case until it is closed and the child is in a safe, permanent home. The program serves children from birth through as the child remains in care, and often continues that relationship after the case is resolved.
Volunteers work with legal and child welfare professionals, educators and service providers to ensure that judges have all the information they need to make the most well-informed decisions for each child.
For more information on CASA of the Ouachita Region, visit 812 DeQueen, Suite G in Mena, call 479-243-9277 or check out #casaouachitaregion on Facebook.