By Karl Terry
It’s a special volunteer job, dealing with children with special problems. Officials say there is a need for more people to get involved with the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) For Children program.
The program serves children who have been abused, neglected or abandoned. Many times their parents are in and out of the court system and drug or alcohol rehabilitation programs, and aren’t able to take on the responsibilities of raising children. That throws the children into the court system, and the advocates become their voice in the courtroom.
This week, CASA sponsored candlelighting ceremonies in Clovis and Portales in conjunction with national non-profit Light of Hope’s observance of child abuse awareness/prevention month.
“I would challenge you all to put yourself in the place of a child who has been removed from their home and placed into the foster system,” Marsha Gilliland, executive director of the CASA program in Curry and Roosevelt counties, said Friday at the Portales ceremony.
Becky (Aubuchont) Queener of Clovis experienced the foster system in Portales firsthand as a child. She spoke to the Portales group.
Queener said she and her twin brother and a sister grew up at the Christian Childrens Home. Although she wasn’t in the CASA program, she’s kept in close touch with her case manager, Julie Nash, and knows the kind of work the program accomplishes.
“These women do awesome things,” Queener said. “They’re dealing with things I don’t have the courage to do.
“The statistics are ironic in towns our size. I was one of them (statistics).”
Queener told a story about a man approaching a young man on the beach throwing star fish stranded by the tide back into the sea. “There are too many of them,” the man said. “You can’t possibly save enough.”
As he flung another one into the surf, the young man replied, “It made a difference to that one.”
“I know that you’re making a difference one child at a time,” Queener told the volunteers and audience assembled.
“I grew up around a lot of children who grew up with neglect. It makes me sad,” Queener told Freedom Newspapers after the ceremony.
Queener said she was emancipated at 16 and got in a lot of trouble before leaving the children’s home and foster system six years ago. She says since that time, marriage, a toddler son and twin stepdaughters have given her life new perspective.
She is pursuing a degree at Clovis Community College and also works part-time as a bus driver. She vows that as soon as she has everything in line in her life personally, she will become a CASA volunteer.
“I’m living a fairy-tale life. It makes me want to give what I have to someone else,” Queener said. “Having my own kids makes me want to do more about it.”
Gilliland says volunteer advocates are needed in Clovis and especially in Portales. Of 98 children being cared for in the system, 45 are in Portales. There are 36 advocates systemwide and just six in the Portales area.
“Ideally every child should have an advocate,” Gilliland said.
Robert and Linda Garcia, a Clovis couple who serve as foster parents, attended the Portales ceremony and praised the CASA volunteers.
“They’re the voice for our kids (foster children),” Linda Garcia said. “It’s a very good program and there’s a need for more volunteers.”