Wilson County’s fourth-oldest nonprofit organization is one of which many county residents have never even heard.
Wilson County Court Appointed Special Advocates will celebrate 25 years of continuous operation Friday.
“We have, by far, gotten more community support as time has gone by,” said Laura Swanson, executive director. “However, there are still people who I will talk to, and I will mention CASA, and they have no idea what I’m talking about.”
“The mission of the Wilson County CASA program is to provide specially selected and trained volunteers to speak up for abused and neglected children, one child at a time, so that each child is permitted to grow up in a safe and permanent home,” according to CASA’s website.
“A lot of people have the misconception that CASA finds foster homes or takes children with them, and that not the case,” said Swanson. “Volunteers build relationships with the children they work with so they can let the court know what the children need.”
In 2012 alone, Wilson County CASA and its 58 volunteer advocates served 265 children. Next week, eight new volunteer advocates will be sworn in; next year, Swanson anticipates CASA will serve about 300 children.
“There’s just that much of a need,” said Swanson. “A lot of the children that we serve, they’re just part of a cycle. I have been involved in the child welfare system in Wilson County for 12 years – between this job and the Department of Children’s Services. A lot of children that I worked with 12 years ago at the Department of Children’s Services have grown up, had children of their own, and now their children are in the system…There are so many families that I see that are repeating that same cycle. If we can show a child that there is a different way to live their life, then they can stop that cycle.”
Wilson County CASA began in 1987 after then-Judge Haywood Barry learned about the organization at a conference. Five original members – Linda Schenk, Brenda Weatherby, Kathy Fyke, Bob Lee and Lula McCathern – comprised the founding steering committee, which served a handful of children.
As the organization grew, so did the number of children served. However, the growth process was not easy.
“Because of what we do, it’s very hard to promote our organization,” said Swanson. “We can’t display stories about the children that we serve, because even if we withhold names, details are still identifiable.”
This can create difficulty when trying to find funding, and as the number of children served grows, so does the cost. According to Swanson, the cost to assign one volunteer for one child is about $800 a year.
As a result, the organization has had to seek creative solutions. In the course of its history, Wilson County CASA has sold Christmas cards, sold cookbooks, sold newspaper subscriptions, held a children’s variety show and even held a circus.
“In the world of nonprofit, you have to be creative,” said Swanson. “I write a lot of grants – some of them get funded; some of them don’t. We are always looking for donations; we hold a reverse raffle as a fundraiser every other year in opposite years of Leadership Wilson.”
Volunteers and board members have also contributed financially.
Donna Moser, a volunteer advocate for 15 years before she passed away, donated the money needed to purchase a permanent office location. Before that, the organization had used donated space in varying areas of Lebanon.
In April, though, CASA opened its doors at its permanent location, Donna’s House – a bungalow house on Castle Heights Avenue.
Visitors can stop by Donna’s House at 111 Castle Heights Ave. on Friday to celebrate CASA’s anniversary with homemade cake and to learn more about CASA.