FEATURING: Marty Sink, CEO and President of CASA of NH and CASA of NH volunteer, Colleen Vien
|Marcia (Marty) Sink|
Sometimes just having your heart in the right place and stepping up can make all the difference. This is especially true when it comes to advocating for children caught up in our courts. And even more so during the pandemic when kids don’t have the same access to the support systems they normally would, like school, daycare or even just going out into the community
“The scary thing is,” says Marty Sink, CEO and President of CASA of NH, “ within two weeks of our governor’s stay at home order last March at the start of the pandemic, reports of child abuse immediately dropped by 50%, because kids were not in the classroom. They were not being seen by daycare providers. Many are still at home in isolation in remote learning situations or perhaps a hybrid classroom model, and for some of our kids that might not be safe.” CASA of NH is all too aware of the gaps in the child protection and juvenile court systems. The nonprofit pairs kids in the court systems with individuals in the community who have volunteered to advocate on a child’s behalf. This advocate gathers information about a child’s needs, whether they are being met, and what actions might be in the child’s best interest. CASA volunteers might talk to parents, extended family members, teachers, and service providers. Most importantly, these advocates talk to and interact with the kids themselves, providing a stable and supportive adult figure in their lives.
CASA of NH receives every case that comes through the court system and last year was able to meet the need of 86% of cases with volunteers, with the goal to eventually cover 100% of the state’s needs. For an organization Marty started in 1989 as a foster parent herself, with just one and a half staff positions and ten volunteers, CASA’s impact and rise to meet these needs has been immense. From just a small smattering of judges, towns, courts, and volunteers, CASA of NH is now involved in every court in the state, includes 600 volunteers, and has a staff of 36 people.
During the pandemic, CASA continues to recruit and train advocates, their role is more crucial now than ever. In normal circumstances advocates would meet with children once a month, with many choosing to meet more frequently. To adapt to the pandemic, however, advocates are now connecting through virtual meetings with kids. They can attend court hearings through zoom or by dialing in over the phone.
Volunteers themselves are from all walks of life. They may be older or younger, busy people or retired, and their backgrounds and interests are just as varied. No particular knowledge or skillset is required to be a volunteer. What unites these volunteers instead is their compassion and commitment to showing up for kids that need them.
“Volunteers sign up wanting to change a child’s life,” says Marty, “and so many actually realize how much their own lives have been changed in the process. The impact of this work, the training and support they receive throughout it, and the experience itself is incredibly rewarding.”
Colleen Vien, who has served on NHBSR’s board of directors for the past couple of years, learned about volunteer opportunities with CASA at NHBSR’s Sustainability Awards last March. She has gone through the 40 hour training process and is ready to take on her first case. “I wanted to contribute to something that would be rewarding, both heart and soul,” says Colleen, “My grandmother fostered kids and I wanted to give back to this legacy."
The training Colleen went through was online, included a background check, and an interview. Colleen shares of the experience, “[CASA of NH] asks questions that unpack your motives and rationale and really tell you a lot about yourself. But the biggest thing that they really want to know is if your heart is in this and if you can be that caring, consistent adult.”
Colleen continues, “Then they prepare you to manage situations you might find yourself in as a volunteer, making sure that you’re ready for the challenge. They teach you everything you need to know from gathering information to engaging with kids at different ages. And they let you know that they’re available as a support whenever you need it, too.” Colleen reflects on how being a CASA volunteer is much more of a commitment than a typical volunteer opportunity, “It’s not a show up and work hard for four hours to paint a school or something. It’s a commitment. But in that way it feels much more meaningful to me, like I’m giving my full self. Showing up, saying to a kid, ‘I really enjoyed spending time with you, I’ll be back in two weeks’ and reading a book together or coloring is huge. When their world just got ripped out from underneath their feet, your being there matters.”
“These kids need us,” affirms Marty, “and we’ll find a way to do this work one way or another. It’s important and we need volunteers who are committed and ready. And everyone needs to know that all New Hampshire citizens are mandated reporters. If you witness or suspect a child is being hurt in any way, speak up!”
To learn more about CASA of NH and other volunteer opportunities with impact, register for our Virtual Volunteer Fair on March 18 at nhbsr.org/volunteer-fair.