Bright lights, big hearts: Extravaganza to benefit CASA



January 29, 2016 - 12:00 AM

YATES CENTER — When Aimee Daniels received a phone call from a stranger saying she wanted to do a fundraiser for CASA, her immediate reaction was that it was a prank call.
“No one has ever volunteered to raise funds for us,” she said.
But Megan Weber is not just anyone.
Which makes two. Because neither is Daniels.

WHILE THE spotlight the night of Feb. 6 will be directed on area dancers in sparkly costumes, the focus is on CASA.
CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates whose purpose is to help neglected or abused children who are removed from their homes and must then deal with the court and social services systems.
To recognize CASA’s good deeds, Weber, owner of The Studio in Yates Center, has coordinated dance troupes from Iola, Chanute and Yates Center to put on an extravaganza of talent at 7 p.m. in the auditorium of Yates Center High School. Performing a total of 19 acts will be those from Weber’s dance company as well as those from Spirit Nation, Iola, the Firestarters at Allen Community College, Brenda’s Dance of Chanute, the Yates Center band and choir, and Miss Hay Capital.
“My goal is to raise $1,500,” through ticket sales and outright gifts, Weber said. With one week to go, she’s more than halfway there.

CASA,  a nationwide organization, was started here in 2004 and serves the counties of Allen, Neosho, Wilson and Woodson, which comprise the 31st Judicial District. Its office is in the Allen County Courthouse.
Last year 180 area children were removed from their homes and considered child in need of care cases, Daniels said. These children are either placed in foster homes, the homes of relatives, or those close enough to be considered family.
Volunteers stay with a child’s case until he or she is placed in a safe, permanent home. Typical responsibilities include meeting on a monthly basis with the child in his current home with the caregivers to make sure the child’s needs are being met. Advocates also keep in touch with the child’s teachers and mental and health professionals to receive their evaluations.
They prepare reports that state how the child is faring.
Currently, CASA volunteers are handling 37 cases with 15 on a waiting list.
Because of a shortage of funds, the local organization lacks the adequate number of advocates to handle the case load.
Today, the local non-profit has 14 advocates with six in training.
Daniels estimates she could use three times as many. “Forty advocates would give me a sense of peace,” she said. “Our outreach is very much restricted by funds.
“Because cases can go back several years, at any one time there are about 250 children who needed advocates,” she said. “The last two years we’ve had to stop recruiting volunteers because we didn’t have the funds to train them.”
That shortage forces judges to assign “the neediest of the needy” to the local CASA chapter, she said. “These are children coming from abusive homes, those subjected to severe neglect.
“It kind of goes against what people perceive as the country’s heartland,” Daniels said of her service area.
While you want to believe our agrarian lifestyle is the face of domestic tranquility, that’s not always the case.
Daniels’ four-county area, in fact, includes high rates of poverty and drug abuse that frequently contribute to mental illness and a lack of parenting skills.
“Those four things, especially when one or two are coupled together, can be devastating to a child’s emotional and physical well-being,” she said.
Daniels said most of her cases center on profound neglect of children — a lack of parenting skills — rather than physical abuse.
CASA’s funding comes from “an eclectic” mix of sources, she said.
CASA gets about $3,000 from a state fee assessed to the processing of birth and death certificates, and it’s a line item in each county’s budget for which it must appeal each year. Allen County has pledged $5,200 for 2016. It also provides office space. The other three counties give “in both lesser and greater amounts,” she said.
But the greatest share of funding for its current $67,000 budget comes from gifts.
Daniels lauded local patrons who give to CASA, as well as those who volunteer.
Daniels said there’s no such thing as a “typical” volunteer. Off the top of her head she listed a rancher, retired school teacher, school psychologist, bus driver, club manager, housewife and postal carrier.
The main quality, is putting children first.
Training advocates is the program’s biggest expense. Each receives 30 hours of training at $600 per advocate. Periodic refresher courses are also required.
Until last November, Daniels was the only paid staff member. A part-time employee now is on hand to help.
Daniels is also an attorney, receiving her law degree from the McGeorge School of Law at the University of the Pacific in Sacramento, Calif. Because she deals with the court system, Daniels termed her legal background as “invaluable.”
She and her husband, Robert Poydack, have two daughters, now grown, and over the last 13 years have served as foster parents.

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