It was a skim through the daily newspaper that prompted Long Grove’s Janice Greenawalt to become a court appointed special advocate in 2007. It was a serendipitous moment that she wouldn’t change.
“Quite honestly, my nest was starting to empty and I found myself with more free time. And there was this small announcement in the paper about local volunteer opportunities,” Greenawalt said, recalling how she learned about CASA Lake County. CASA’s 300-plus volunteers are tasked with representing the best interests of abused and neglected children in the juvenile justice system. More than 550 children annually are paired with CASA volunteers.
“I liked the idea of working with children and the challenge of the legal interaction, which is not something I’d done before,” Greenawalt said. She was quick to register for CASA’s 40-hour training program and be sworn in as a volunteer. CASA volunteers are asked to commit at least 10 hours per month to their assigned case, for at least a two-year term. They are assigned one case at a time.
The organization will celebrate its successes at the twelfth annual CASA Lake County Gala Saturday, May 14, at Ravinia in Highland Park. The event will feature live and silent auctions, dinner and dancing. Guests will also hear from a 20-year old man who as a child benefitted from the support provided by CASA Lake County’s volunteers.
“The reality is that not every child is born into a family that can support his or her needs,” Greenawalt said. “I keep going back to CASA because every child deserves to have a voice, but the majority can’t speak for themselves because of their age or emotional maturity. Each case is an opportunity to help a child find a path for moving forward toward a productive, successful life.”
Also at the Gala, CASA Lake County will honor Robert L. Parkinson Jr., Chairman Emeritus of Baxter International Inc., with the Terri Zenner Award for Outstanding Service to Children and the Community. Parkinson is a licensed foster parent and a long-time advocate for children in the communities CASA serves.
Funds raised at the Gala will enable CASA Lake County to continue its work. The organization sites research showing that a child with a CASA volunteer advocate is less likely to experience further abuse; moves more rapidly through the court system; stays an average of 10 months less in foster care; and is more likely to be adopted into a safe and permanent home.
“The judges appreciate the work that CASA volunteers do and often ask for our input – they look for the reports that the CASA volunteers make to the courts – because our volunteers have more time to spend with the children than the caseworkers who are juggling multiple cases,” said Gala chairwoman Joanna Lynn, of Riverwoods.
Lynn learned about CASA during her employer’s Lunch and Learn series. And when she (like Greenawalt) found herself with free time, she sought out the organization she had long admired.
“CASA allows volunteers one-on-one interaction with children in such a way that I could see the difference I was making in their lives; that’s what appealed to me,” Lynn recalled. “Helping these children grow up and receive the things they need to flourish, like love and attention and social services, is the biggest gift I can give to someone.”
Find more information at www.casalakecounty/events.