Nathan Lee, executive director of CASA, speaks during the ribbon cutting for the organization’s new home in Downtown Fresno last week. Photo by Donald A. Promnitz
Written by Donald A. Promnitz
For foster children, life can sometimes be lonely, hard or even bleak. While many find their way into loving families, others still can encounter abuse and neglect. For these children, there are the advocates from CASA.
With two offices currently in operation, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Fresno and Madera Counties is an organization that recruits, supports and trains volunteers who serve as advocates for children. Currently CASA supports some 150 volunteers each year, serving approximately 300 children in the area annually.
“We have, in terms of vocational background, a wide variety of people. We have several engineers, we have health care providers, we have educators, we have lots of retired people, we have students in college, so it’s a wide range,” said Nathan Lee, executive director at CASA. “We have one manager of a local railroad, so people come from all walks of life.”
Now, CASA stands to help more with opening of a new office in Downtown Fresno. The facility, which is located at the Civic Center Square at 2300 Tulare St., will offer room for 13 employees and a larger space to train its volunteers. Along with this room, which can accommodate 45 people, there are also two more rooms for 15.
Started in Seattle in 1976, CASA was founded to be a voice for children in foster care to navigate the legal system. CASA would eventually go nationwide and open its doors in most every county in California, starting in Fresno County in 1996.
Volunteers are called on to investigate and monitor. They give information to the court to help the judge’s decision-making. An advocate will further work to find the needs of the child that might be unmet. This includes their safety, behavior and academic performance. They also provide a source and sense of security for children they represent.
“They change placements, they change social workers, they change schools, and in the process, they’re uprooted numerous times — time and time again,” Lee said of the foster kids. “So the assurance that comes from our advocates is very powerful. It’s giving one constant voice and person in that child’s life.”
In the future, CASA of Fresno and Madera Counties looks to expand further with the ever-growing demand. Right now, they handle a little over 200 children daily, but hope to expand to 450 soon.
“You know what a CASA worker is?” H. Spees, a community activist in Fresno, said at the ribbon cutting of their new office. “A CASA worker is a human being who comes alongside a child that’s going through the process of transition — a desperate time of life, and making sure that safety net is sound.”