Where should I start?

Hi all! Welcome to the CASA Chronicles!

If you’re stumbling across this post from a Google search, a link on Facebook, or a deep dive into non-profit organizations, this blog is dedicated to CASA of Venango County. CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates, and helping and advocating for children is the top priority. Our slowly growing team is led by Cinnamon Evans, who’s directed the program for 14 years and has helped approximately 240 children who needed someone to fight for them. Shelly Walters, the Program Support Specialist, is her right-hand woman and writes correspondence, recruits new CASAs, helps with fundraisers, and just started as the person who runs their website and social media sites; she also helps Cinnamon set up for PR events to further raise awareness for CASA. The team just welcomed Debbie Kimberlin, the Advocate Supervisor. Debbie’s duties are just like her title says, she is the supervisor and helper for all of the CASA volunteer advocates. And her furry best friend, Ruger, has quickly become the CASA office dog!

Before regular posts appear in this space, I’d like to introduce myself as the official writer for the blog. My name is Callie Marshall, I’m twenty-one years old, and I’m currently studying Writing at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. My involvement with CASA started when my mom, Shelly, was hired as the administrative assistant in the office. At first, I helped her with some of the events that CASA hosted like the Poker Run and Ladies’ Night, but eventually I started doing more with the CASA team. In 2017, Cinnamon asked me to write an article for a special edition of the Derrick, our local newspaper, that highlights businesses and nonprofit organizations in the area. It was my first opportunity to be published, so I jumped on the opportunity to not only build my resume, but also to raise awareness about CASA. I did the same in 2018, and now I’m here—writing regular blog posts to continue to raise awareness, spread the word, and show the importance of CASA of Venango County.

A big question I had when I started was what made CASA any different than Children, Youth and Family Services (CYFS)? After asking lots of questions I figured out three main differences. The first is an easy one: CASA is a nonprofit organization, operating fully on grants, fundraisers, and sponsors; CYFS is completely funded by Venango County—no extra steps necessary.

Next is the difference between CYFS Service Coordinators and CASA Special Advocates. Service Coordinators are employed by CYFS and handle anywhere from ten to twenty cases at a time. Special Advocates at CASA are strictly volunteers; they aren’t paid and undergo in-house training to learn how everything works. They also have a court order, giving them access to more information like health and education records. Many Special Advocates at CASA work full-time, or run their own businesses, or are retired, and for them to not only dedicate time to their personal lives, but also to children in need with no compensation is truly amazing.

The final and most important major difference between CYFS and CASA rests within the missions of the two organizations. CYFS is assigned a biological family’s case and do what they can to bring children back to their parents. They work for the family as a whole. CASA is for the child and concentrates only on the best interests for the child.

I met a girl through an extracurricular activity who had a CASA, and her home life was a mess. Drugs, instability, and neglect filled her biological home life, and she was placed with foster parents who did everything they could for her; they gave her a life she could never have had with her biological parents. Her CASA saw this, and when the girl’s court date came around, the CASA shared enough information with the judge that the girl was eventually adopted by her foster parents. This was in this girl’s best interests as going back home was not safe for her. Instead she was adopted and placed in a home where she could thrive and grow.

If CASA didn’t exist, this girl might have gone back to her biological parents, suffered more neglect and heartache—who knows what else could have happened. CASA fights for the best possible option for the child, and in many cases (like the previous example) biological parents aren’t the best one. Sometimes foster parents, aunts and uncles, or grandparents provide a safe, loving, nurturing environment that’s better for them in the long run..

CASA is an amazing part of my life. It allowed me to see positive change in a world that seems like it’s downward-spiraling most of the time. It’s extra special that it helps children, too, because they are our future—the future of the world. If they can’t thrive, the world can’t either. More people need to know about organizations like CASA.

I hope you enjoyed the first of many posts that will appear on this page. I hope you learned a little more about CASA of Venango County. Check back on Saturday, June 15th for our next post, a tell-all about becoming a volunteer and some more info on how CASA runs behind the scenes. Have a good one!