Advocate for neglected, abused children

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Carol Sorgen

Since 2000, CASA of Baltimore County has provided Court Appointed Special Advocates for children who have been removed from their parents’ or guardians’ care due to abuse or neglect.

Since its founding, CASA has trained more than 300 volunteers who have worked to improve the lives and the future of children in need. Baltimore County’s volunteer office named CASA its 2011 Nonprofit of the Year.

Peggy Webster and Mary Boenning are two of CASA’s long-time volunteers. Webster first became involved with CASA in Ft. Wayne, Ind., when the company she was working for stressed the need for its employees to give back to the community.

“I chose CASA because it looked to be the type of organization where one could make a real difference,” Webster recalled.

After moving first to Ireland and then to Baltimore, Webster felt she needed to give more back to the community and remembered her days with CASA in Indiana. She contacted the national organization in Seattle by email, and it referred her to the Baltimore County chapter.

Parenting skills helpful

According to Webster, the most important experience needed as a CASA volunteer is that of being a parent. She herself has three children, each of them with unique needs, and that has immensely helped her help others.

For example, her eldest has learning differences. “I have had significant experience with school systems in Baltimore, Texas and Indiana, as well as in Ireland, advocating for a child who needs accommodation in the classroom,” said Webster.

Another of her children is a recovering addict, and Webster said she has had the benefit of excellent parent education and counseling in dealing with a child with this issue.

And her third child, though very successful in college and her career, suffers from a mild anxiety disorder.

“My desire to get re-involved with CASA came from wanting to take all of this experience and use it to benefit another child,” said Webster.

The first child assigned to Webster by CASA had already been assisted by several other volunteers when Webster became involved two years ago. Unfortunately, each of those predecessors had experienced personal events that caused them to leave the program.

Webster’s CASA child has been in the care of the state
for 13 years and
is “aging out” this month. Though Webster admits that the child can at times be difficult, he also has a gentle, caring side to him, she said.

“I have come to see my role with this child as ensuring that nothing falls between the cracks, and if it does to fix it,” said Webster.

That has involved setting up meetings with his new school, obtaining his birth certificate so he could get a Social Security number and then a job, and meeting with a child psychiatrist to review, and ultimately change, the child’s medications to more effective ones.

“These are small things, but examples of what a CASA [volunteer] can do to keep things from going off the rails,” said Webster.

“In this case, we needed to get all of the players in the child’s life to step up their performance a bit, and I think I can say that happened,” she said.

“I did not expect to develop a great bond with him because he had already had a number of CASA volunteers come and go. I do think, though, that he now trusts me to help him through the system and to act as his advocate in a very often confusing and complicated set of arrangements.”

One-on-one relationships

Mary Boenning was a stay-at-home mom for whom being involved in her children’s lives was important. She was an active participant in the local PTAs, a board member of two local Boy Scout troops and a Girl Scout leader.

“Being involved with children and their development has always been a part of my life,” said Boenning.

When her youngest child graduated from high school, Boenning started investigating ways to volunteer the skills she had developed, which led her to CASA.

“The development of a one-on-one relationship with the child is what appealed to me,” she said.

She has been an active caseworker for almost two years with a teenage boy. “Witnessing the evolution of this young man and helping explore his future has been an amazing experience and a privilege to be a part of,” said Boenning.

Volunteers are needed to help CASA achieve its goal of providing an advocate for every child in need. Volunteers devote 10 to 12 hours a month on average.

Another way to help is to participate in the upcoming benefit,

“A Harvest of Hope for Children,” on Thursday, Oct. 27, from 6:30 to 10 p.m., at the Oregon Ridge Lodge, 13401 Beaver Dam Rd., in Cockeysville.

The business casual event, co-chaired by Webster and Boenning, will feature cocktails and a buffet dinner, along with a silent auction. Tickets are $75 in advance and $80 at the door.

For more information about the event , or about volunteering for CASA, call (410) 828-0515 or visit www.casabaltco.org.