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7:52 PM Thu, Dec. 13th

Need exists for more vols, adoptive parents

PRESCOTT -- Yavapai CASA for Kids and the Yavapai CASA Program are in need of volunteers to assist children in foster care.

"We need more volunteers, more CASAs, more adoptive parents," said Barabara Polk, who has been an instrumental player in the establishment of both organizations.

"And even more people on the board of this organization," added Diana Dalsass, a Yavapai CASA for Kids volunteer. " A lot of people aren't able to be CASAs because it is a big time commitment."

The involvement in Yavapai CASA for Kids, however, does not demand such a time commitment, she added.

Some volunteers are wearing several hats to help both organizations fulfill their goals.

Doug Manny, for example, is a CASA and activities chairman for Yavapai CASA for Kids.

"I have four cases and six children and I'm a surrogate parent for another one," he said. "I'm also a court facilitator."

Yavapai County Superior Court Judge Robert Brutinel said, "Doug volunteers a tremendous amount of time for the court and for these kids. I can't say enough good things about all the things he does for us."

Yavapai CASA for Kids serves unmet needs of children who are in the care of the court and supports the work of Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteers, which is a state-supported program.

Polk said the need for a nonprofit program that would support the work of CASA was there because "we could not find money for some of the things that we knew our kids in foster care needed."

"CASAs were especially aware of that because they were assigned the kids in foster care," she said. "If the state couldn't take care of their medical needs and their education, then we would apply to the Friends of Foster Children Foundation."

But even with that support, all the needs of children in foster care were not met and, as a result, Yavapai CASA for Kids was born in November 2001.

"We thought if we did this for Yavapai County, we could at least take care of our kids with their special needs," Polk explained.

Manny added that "things that are not provided by the state or Friends of Foster Children or any other organization, we try to get for them."

Polk said the organization gets money from fundraisers and individual and business donations.

"People very kindly donate because they understand that foster children have special needs and they care about them," Polk said.

Through donations, the organization is able to provide grants to foster families for special items that other sources do not cover, such as clothing, bedroom furniture or to buy a birthday present; family-oriented activities for foster children, their parents, therapists, case managers and CASAs; an adoption exchange box to allow letter exchanges between adoptive and biological families without disclosing the child's location; and "celebration cards" that people in the system can use to reward their accomplishments.

About 160 children are currently in the Yavapai CASA program, with about 85 CASA volunteers assigned to these cases.

Every year, authorities remove about 400 children from their homes in Yavapai County due to neglect, abuse or both.

"This means that about 240 children do not have a CASA assigned to them; the judge in those cases may not have access to the critical information provided by a CASA that could make a vital difference in the long-term welfare of these children," according to a press release.

Dalsass said, "When you come from a life where you have been working 40 to 50 hours a week, you don't feel like you have ever given anything back.

"What the CASA program allows us to have is an incredible sense of self-fulfillment," she said. "They say help one child at a time. When you are in the middle of helping that one child and you know that you help the judge make a decision that is going to make that child's life better, it is an incredible feeling."

Polk said that "it is important to have a group of people committed to special needs of children in foster care and committed to allowing the community to help meet these kids' special needs. This is a very caring community."

It is not necessary to be a CASA volunteer to join the board of Yavapai CASA for Kids.

For more information about becoming a CASA volunteer, call the Yavapai CASA Program at 771-3165.

For more information how to join and support Yavapai CASA for Kids, call Polk at 445-1204.

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