BY MELANIE BUCK –
Local CASA Volunteers Ken and Anna Marks and local CASA Director Cynthia Martin received awards at the 2014 State CASA Conference. CASA, which stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates, supports and promotes court-appointed advocates for abused or neglected children in order to provide children with a safe and healthy environment in permanent homes. They insure that foster children don’t fall into the cracks of the system. Each volunteer goes through extensive background checks and 30 hours of education. Volunteers must have 12 hours of continuing education each year after that to continue the program.
Ken and Anna Marks have been CASA volunteers for more than 3 years and have advocated for 27 children. They received the Heart of CASA Award for Outstanding Advocacy. Martin said of the couple, “They are wonderful and incredibly passionate about the work that they do when it comes to advocating for these children. They take cases in Polk and Sevier Counties and have a total of 4 cases right now, which is a huge load. They regularly visit the children on these cases. They also help with every fundraiser that CASA has. They are always donating their time. They will cook for us or do anything that we ever possibly need to help the children that they advocate for,” stated Martin.
Anna Marks said of the joy she’s received through CASA, “The reason we got into this was basically, we wanted to give back to our community. What we get out of it is seeing a difference. You may think the kids aren’t getting anything out of it. But if the children are old enough, they realize you are there just for them. They realize you aren’t asking them questions about what has happened and you’re just there being a person that cares about them, checking in, making sure they are being taken care of, and just being theirs for no other reason. When you go on each visit and these little guys come up and give you a hug and you see how much it means to them for you just showing up, it just says it right there.”
Ken Marks stated, “I like the idea of having a say in the court system. You actually get to write a report and make recommendations and a lot of times the judges at least pay attention to it and read it. It actually gives me a sense of satisfaction knowing I’ve been a little piece of what’s being done.”
Cynthia Martin has been involved with CASA for many years, volunteering in Houston 8 years ago and continuing her passion when she moved to Mena. Martin, who has been director of Polk County’s CASA organization for 6 years, oversees Polk and Montgomery Counties and just took on Sevier County, as well. Martin has 24 volunteers now that take care of children in all 3 counties. She received the Arkansas CASA Superstar Award for Outstanding Advocacy. “She does a real good job. She takes care of a lot of business. Just adding the third county was just a great example of what a good job she does,” said Ken. Martin, who is quite modest about her award said, “We’re able to provide an advocate for every child that comes through the system in Polk and Montgomery Counties and a lot of programs are not able to say that. We’ve been able to do that for a number of years and the fact that I was willing to take on an extra county and try to expand and provide advocates for all of those children were the merits they used to honor me with the award.”