Everyday, national and world news photos and film capture heart-wrenching images of children throughout the world facing and enduring horrific circumstances. Too often, local news reports also tell equally grim stories of children suffering appalling fates in south central Oklahoma. Unfortunately, those local reports relay only a very small percentage of what is happening to spiraling numbers of area children living in emotional and/or physical painful circumstances.
What's the difference between those children in distant lands and the ones in Oklahoma? It is easier to acknowledge the plight of a child half a world away than it is to admit children on your street, attending the school in your neighborhood, or living across town might be existing in equally shocking and terrifying circumstances.
Regardless of where they live, each of these children exists in "worst nightmare" circumstances. The ones in foreign lands can be helped by supporting agencies and missions dedicated to relieving their plight. The ones here at home? They can be helped by personally becoming involved.
That personal involvement is easily achieved by becoming a Court Appointed Special Advocate volunteer.
There are children right now, today, who wait for a CASA volunteer to say "I care about you." These children, through no fault of their own, have been trapped in a quicksand of ignorance, hard times, violence and crime. They've been rescued from such circumstances and placed in the court system. And while that effort affords safety and hope of a better life, it is also a world filled with strangers. The nightmare has ended, but being suddenly transported into an environment where nothing is familiar can be just as terrifying as the world they've left.
Court Appointed Special Advocate executive director Lynn Riley describes the emotions children feel in these unknown circumstances.
"They know no one — they have no one who is familiar to them. It is like they're being punished," she says.
CASA volunteers are often referred to as special friends, but Riley says that definition doesn't paint the entire picture.
"A CASA volunteer is that one person the child can rely on — the advocate offers a solid relationship. The CASA becomes their call-home place to report their successes, failures, needs and sometimes just to hear someone say we miss you or love you," she says.
Being a CASA volunteer doesn't take up a lot of time. It doesn't require special skills, talents or knowledge. CASA volunteers come from all kinds of backgrounds. They don't have to be a certain age, race or religion. All that's required is a desire to care for a child who desperately needs an adult in their corner. Training sessions for volunteers provide the rest.
Training begins this evening, and runs through Sept. 24. Classes are 6 to 9 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays.
To register, call (580) 226-0009 or drop by the CASA office, located on the fourth floor of the Carter County Courthouse.