Bonner residents volunteer efforts recognized
Marcia Nicely says dedication to her role as a CASA volunteer comes from her desire to help children.
“It’s just something I believe in,” she said. “I’ve always worked with children, so this is something I can keep doing but not be full-time.”
Nicely, a Bonner Springs resident, last month was named Volunteer of the Year by CASA of Wyandotte and Johnson Counties through the United Way of Wyandotte County. CASA is the Court-Appointed Special Advocate group, in which volunteers represent the best interests of abused and neglected children in the courtroom and other settings.
Nicely has lived just outside of Bonner in rural Leavenworth County for 10 years, and in 2004, she began volunteering with CASA. She has a master’s degree in early childhood development, so she had been familiar with CASA’s work in the past.
As a volunteer, she took five or six three-hour classes on various subjects to train to be a child advocate. She was then assigned to cases in which children had been removed from the home into foster care.
“It’s not a mentoring program, and it’s not a YouthFriend program,” she said. “What it does is make you become familiar with the child or children, so they’re familiar with you, and you go visit them. I think the important aspect is, in the foster care system, their case workers will turn over, the therapists will turn over, their teachers will turn over, and the CASA is the one person who’s supposed to stay consistent.”
Every time the children have a progress hearing in court, the advocate is there, providing a report.
As an advocate, she makes suggestions to a caseworker about what services the child might need, whether it be therapy or special tutoring. She receives help and advice from caseworkers and CASA’s full-time staff.
Such responsibility isn’t something to be taken lightly.
“I think it takes a commitment,” Nicely said. “Once you get a case, you’re just committed to the children. It’s very seldom that a CASA gives up a case.”
Most often, children have been removed from the home due to drug use, physical abuse or neglect, but it’s still hard to see parental rights removed, Nicely said, even if you agree with the decision.
“The good moments are when they get reunited, because the best thing for children is to be with their own parents, so when that happens, it’s really a great thing to see parents work hard and be determined to get their kids back,” she said.
But with her second case, she said it also was nice to see the boys adopted by a good family.
“The one little boy had not ever had a dad… he was so excited to get a dad,” Nicely said.
For those who would consider becoming a CASA volunteer, Nicely said a good way to start is to visit an introductory coffee.
“There’s also nothing wrong with going to the training — people sometimes go through the training… and then decide this is not something they can devote the time to, or they don’t think they can do it,” she said. “But really, if you care about the children, (the main challenge) is only the time commitment.”