CASA makes a difference in the lives of children and volunteers
Published 10:35 am Wednesday, August 2, 2023
By BETH CHAPMAN | Special to the Reporter
After working in the Shelby County school system for 15 years as a teacher and counselor, serving on the school board for 18 years then being a real estate agent, Donna Morris decided to retire. After one year of retirement, she searched for something that would make a difference in the lives of others. She found a new passion when she read about the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Shelby County in the local newspaper.
CASA is an organization that recruits and trains volunteers to go through the court process with abused and neglected children, provides in-home visits, parenting classes and supervised visitations. Morris thought it would be a good fit for her. She was right. Now, three years and two cases later, Morris is convinced she made a good decision. Her efforts have made a positive impact in the lives of the children she’s served and in her own life.
Morris was first drawn to CASA when she became aware of the numbers of children who were abused and neglected in the court system.
“It blew my mind,” Morris said. “I am glad I found CASA because I love the work I do and have seen firsthand the difference it can make in the lives of children and my own life, too.”
After completing a 30-hour training program, Morris was sworn in as an official officer of the court by Shelby County’s juvenile judge. Morris was then assigned the case of a young woman, named Robin, a mother of three. Robin had a family history of substance abuse issues and her children were taken away from her due to her own substance abuse. The children were separated and in the custody of three different individuals. One of the girls was placed in seven different foster homes. After Morris got involved in the case, the mother was granted supervised visitations with her children.
Those group visits with Robin and her children may not have been possible without the help of Morris as a trained CASA volunteer.
“The children loved the group visitations with their siblings and their mother,” Morris said. “It was very productive and a positive thing for them all.”
After much mentoring between Morris and Robin, many visits and other requirements met, things began to improve for Robin.
“I tried to share life lessons and observations with her,” Morris said.
Morris credits Robin with working hard and exceeding the court’s requirements of her. Robin attended parenting classes, Narcotics Anonymous, took online courses, passed weekly drug screenings and made better life choices. She was eventually able to regain custody of two of her children, buy a house for them and is now a leader of Celebrate Recovery. Her story and the story of her children was changed because of CASA.
“Robin really wanted to establish herself, and we worked together for her to overcome many challenges and obstacles,” Morris said.
Morris not only conducted home visits to check in on the children once Robin received custody, but the children also invited her to attend their dance recitals and other school events. Morris obliged because she was truly involved in their lives and wanted their best interests to be met. Being a consistent part of their lives was important to Morris and Robin’s family during a difficult time.
“CASA was the light at the end of the tunnel for me and benefited our family by being the bridge between the busy court system and our family’s unique needs and situation,” Robin said. “Having a CASA volunteer involved in my case helped advocate for what was truly in my kids’ best interests and ultimately produced a relationship with a Godly woman that I strongly admire and am proud to call a mentor.”
Those interested in learning more about being a CASA volunteer may visit Casaofshelbycounty.org.
“You do not have to have a degree or be ‘qualified,’ just caring and concerned. We’ll train you to do the rest,” said Beth Chapman, CASA of Shelby County executive director.
For more information, Beth can be reached at 205-243-8753.
CASA training classes start this fall in Columbiana at the Patricia M. Smith CASA House on West College Street. Call to see how to change the life of a child who may not get help otherwise.
Also, join CASA’s fundraising efforts on Sunday, Oct. 15 when cooking phenomenon and national internet sensation Brenda Gantt hosts an autograph party and lunch at the Grande Hall at Old Mill Square in Columbiana. For ticket information visit Casaofshelbycounty.org/event.