Jasper County CASA reaches $1 million goal

·4 min read

Dec. 26—Jasper County Court Appointed Special Advocates, also known as CASA, received an early Christmas present in November after a $100,000 donation from Cardinal Scale Manufacturing Co. allowed the organization to meet its $1 million campaign goal.

"CASA Campaign for the Future" was launched last year by the local nonprofit to raise funds to build a training and connection center for advocates and children to have a consistent, safe location to meet.

"We are so thankful for the generosity of businesses like Cardinal Scale and individuals who see the need and support our community," said Betsy Kissel, vice president of the Jasper County CASA board.

Formed in 2018, Jasper County CASA is the local chapter of CASA, a national organization that places court-appointed volunteers with foster children to guide and support them through the process of finding a permanent home.

Volunteers are appointed by judges to advocate for children and youth who have experienced abuse or neglect, many of whom are in foster care. In 2020, volunteers dedicated nearly 4.3 million hours to serve 242,236 children and youth in the United States, according to a National CASA Association annual report.

There are currently 450 to 500 local children in foster care every night in Jasper County, according to Debi Koelkebeck, executive director of the local chapter.

"We see so many kids moving from home to home, and we'll finally have a place where advocates can meet consistently with their children," she said. "We'll have a play area and a big kitchen. We're going to make it homey and safe."

Jasper County CASA is currently housed at the Joplin Advanced Training and Technology Center at 420 Grand Ave. in Joplin and has been looking for room to grow.

Four empty lots adjacent to The Light At Joplin church on East 20th Street will soon become the organization's first location of its own. Construction crews plan to break ground at 1825 Carolyn Place in early 2022.

"I'm looking forward to the recruitment of new volunteers and how we'll be more visible in our new location," said Suzanne Hall, treasurer of the CASA board.

Jasper County CASA aims to have an advocate paired with every child by 2024. Advocates are trained volunteers appointed by the juvenile court judge to make informed recommendations to the court about a child's best interest. The most significant aspect of volunteering with CASA is remaining a solid part of the child's life throughout their case.

Koelkebeck said they're always looking for volunteers, who are paired with about two children, on average.

"We have the staff in place, and we're really excited," she said. "What we really need is more volunteers. We're trying to get 50 additional volunteers. We have 80 right now, and we really hope the visibility will help us share that awareness and the need."

The 4,500-square-foot center will feature meeting spaces, offices, a training room, a kitchen, a flex space, play and learning areas, as well as additional room for expansion.

Advocates appointed to older youths will have a place to teach life skills. There will also be an outdoor playground area for up to 10 children. The indoor playroom will double as a storm shelter.

Cardinal Scale in Webb City made the $100,000 donation to Jasper County CASA in November. The manufacturing company has been located in Webb City since its inception 1950 by William H. Perry.

"At Cardinal Scale, we love to support our community, and when we talked about what to do this year, we thought that this was a good fit — to invest in the advocates who help our foster kids," said Aston Stovern, who's on the board of directors for Cardinal Scale and Jasper County CASA. "I'm new to the CASA board, and my mind is still blown at the need. This center is definitely a need."

Stovern said Cardinal Scale also has donated to the Lafayette House and Children's Haven of Southwest Missouri in the past.

"Children have always been of primary importance, especially with my older brother (Bill Perry) being a retired child advocate and attorney," said Rebecca Perry, who's also on the Cardinal Scale board of directors. "My father started Cardinal Scale, and he strongly believed in supporting everything in the community. He would be very proud of this project."

CASA volunteers are trained and prepared by CASA staff for 30 hours prior to taking a case. There's also an additional 12 hours of continuing education provided annually. Volunteers are tasked with determining the best path for the child by providing fact-based recommendations to the judge involved with the case.

"A lot of people still don't know what CASA is or they believe it's a foster parent," said Stovern. "CASA works with foster parents and the rest of the team to improve these children's lives."

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