Cars were already lining up on Veterans Boulevard 20 minutes before the Festival of Lights was set to open on Christmas Eve. Fortunately, a team of CASA volunteers were already in place waiting for the gates to open. Valerie Bynum has been a CASA volunteer for 20 years and she explained the work the organization does.

“We are a friend to children when they are going through times, being removed from their homes or in-between homes,” Bynum said. “We fill a need that doesn’t get met by other organizations because we’re there when those kids really need somebody. We stay with them in most instances from start to finish, where as sometimes the DHS workers change and guardian items change.”

CASA volunteers are appointed by the judge, and they report back to the court what they feel is best for the children.

“Parents or DHS might have their own agendas, but we’re there solely to give our opinion on where we feel the kids will be served the best,” Bynum said.

Bynum told the story of how she first became a volunteer with the program.

“I was mentoring at Jefferson and I really wanted to get in and help kids more than what I was able to in the classroom,” Bynum said. “My children were growing up and going to college, and I was looking into helping different programs, just trying to be of service.”

She said she read an article in The Ardmoreite about CASA holding a training session, and that came at just the right time when she was looking for a way to better serve the community. That was 20 years ago, and she’s been a part of the organization ever since.

Bynum said often CASA volunteers are assigned cases with multiple children in the same family. After sticking with the children through their court case, a CASA volunteer’s time with the children is officially over, though they sometimes still remain in the children’s lives as a family friend.

“I’m still involved with my first case from 20 years ago, but just as a friend,” Bynum said. “They were never adopted out or placed back with their mother, so they went to a children’s home and I’ve remained in contact the whole time.”

Bynum said volunteering for CASA has been one of the most rewarding experiences of her life.

“As a volunteer you sometimes have your ups and downs,” Bynum said. “But it’s all worth it and so rewarding because you know that if you hadn’t been there for that child, they might have gone somewhere that would not have been good for them.”