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At-risk youth gain volunteer advocates

December 28, 2012

With CASA Executive Director Lisa Reel (far left) looking on, Judge Dean Stout (front row), swore in eight CASA volunteers earlier this month: (l-r) Randi Case, Sue Stoutenburg, Glenn Young, Phil Hartz, Sherry Cosgrove, Nancy Willard, Jessica Klemencic and Ann Wagoner. Karie Bentley, Colleen Hart and Leisha Baldwin also completed CASA training, but were unable to attend the swearing-in ceremony. Photo courtesy Superior Court

Several local residents have taken an oath, swearing to look after some of the community’s most vulnerable citizens.
On Monday, Dec. 17, Presiding Inyo County Superior Court and Juvenile Court Judge Dean Stout conducted a swearing-in ceremony for the first group of Court Appointed Special Advocates for the Eastern Sierra in the historic courtroom in Independence.
CASA volunteers serve as the “eyes and ears” of dependents and/or delinquent children in the court system, reporting to the judges and court on any issue the children they look after may have, according to Lisa Reel, the executive director of both CASA and Wild Iris.
Karie Bentley, Randi Case, Jessica Klemencic, Colleen Hart, Phil Hartz, Sue Stoutenburg and Ann Wagoner of Bishop; Sherry Cosgrove and Glenn Young of Keeler; Leisha Baldwin of Crowley Lake; and Nancy Williard of June Lake received certificates of completion for the 30-plus hours of training they undertook to become CASA volunteers.
According to Reel, volunteers interview anyone who has information about the family they are assigned to and submit written reports to the courts summarizing their observations and making recommendations to the judges about how to handle particular cases.
“Their primary focus is to make sure the primary needs of the child are met,” Reel said. “They work primarily with the child.”
Inyo County Superior Court Executive Officer Tammy Grimm, who also serves as a Steering and Advisory Committee member to CASA, said, “information provided to the court by CASA volunteers is invaluable; judges will use the information to make the most informed decisions that they can as to what is in the best interest of the child.”
Currently, there are 17 cases in Inyo County that need CASA volunteers. Reel said that each volunteer is assigned to one family (some families have multiple children).
According to Reel, children who are in the local foster care system can often be shuffled between placement homes, but with a CASA volunteer assigned to their case, they will have at least some continuity, because the volunteer will remain assigned the same child for the duration of their service.
Reel said she is honored to be part of bringing the CASA program to the Eastern Sierra. “Becoming a CASA volunteer requires a commitment to children, objectivity, responsibility, communication skills and approximately ten hours of time per month,” she said.
Reel also said more CASA volunteers are needed and another training class will be held in mid-January. “We’re going to be doing training throughout the year, and we do ask that volunteers commit for at least a year, but we’ve found that when we pair a volunteer with a child, they like to see it through until the child is out of the system.”
For more information, or to volunteer, call Reel at (760) 872-1703 or email lreel@wild-iris.org.

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