By Conrad Dudderar
EL RENO – A volunteer-driven program meeting the needs of vulnerable Canadian County youth has received a large boost.
Canadian County’s Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) are grateful – more than ever – for county commissioners’ ongoing financial support of their program. The mission of Canadian County CASA is to provide community volunteers to serve as court-appointed special advocates and represent the best interests of abused and neglected children who are wards of the court.
Canadian County CASA leaders attended the May 10th weekly commissioners’ meeting to explain what the support means.
Executive Director Dana Lutz thanked commissioners for their financial backing – totaling $25,000 for fiscal year 2022 – as part of an annual contract.
Funds are provided in the Canadian County Children’s Justice Center budget.
“Your financial contribution from the center means so much to us,” Lutz told commissioners. “We served 126 kids in 2020. That is a 22% increase from 2019. We are so proud of that, especially in light of COVID.
“It’s been very hard on us, not only in recruiting volunteers but, additionally, funding sources have been severely cut for us. This contract has really helped us keep going throughout COVID and made a big difference.”
Canadian County CASA has 60 volunteers who ensure the needs the needs of these at-risk youth are met.
“We are so happy to serve the abused and neglected kids of our county,” Lutz said. “There were almost 400 in our county last year, so we serve almost a third of those.
“We hope to increase that this upcoming year.”
Serving this program has been an eye-opening experience for Lynn Groves, a Canadian County CASA board member.
“There is so much demand, so much need,” Groves said. “As people go through the court system, there are people advocating for the various parties disputing. But there’s nobody there, really, looking out for the interest of the kids – who are the victims in many cases.”
The program serves children and teens who find themselves in trying, difficult situations through no fault of their own.
Canadian County CASA volunteers help these kids “navigate through this system, and even through the events that are happening in their lives or their family’s lives,” said Groves, in his second year on the board.
CASA volunteers advocate for these abused and neglected youth, looking out for their educational, medical and emotional needs.
“There is somebody there watching, listening and paying attention,” Groves explained, “and helping ‘raise these kids up’ so they can become functioning adults.”
More Canadian County CASA volunteers are needed since the program does not have enough advocates to serve about two-thirds of the county’s abused and neglected youth.
“We serve only the most high-need cases,” Lutz explained, “where the kids have been through substantial abuse and neglect or have the highest risk of further medical needs or sibling separation.”
The director hopes to increase CASA’s volunteer base to 70 this year.
“Ideally, we’d have an advocate for every kid in custody or sibling group,” she noted.
Anyone interested in volunteering must complete training, pass a background check and provide references.
The program relies on long-term volunteers.
“They usually stay with the kids a year or two, at the least,” Lutz shared.
Canadian County is fortunate to have a dedicated group of volunteers who “are really putting the time in and really care about these kids,” she added.
Canadian County District 1 Commissioner Marc Hader thanked CASA representatives for being “good stewards” of the funds the county has previously provided.
Canadian County CASA has an office at the county’s juvenile center. For more information, call (405) 262-5508 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
THIS AND THAT …
In other business at their May 10th meeting, Canadian County Commissioners approved:
• Adding two projects to Circuit Engineering District 5’s five-year plan – for the engineering of two bridges on NW 192nd in District 1 and for a three-mile overlay of Memorial Road in District 3.
• The 24th and final draw – totaling $207,193 to Lingo Construction – on a BancFirst loan for construction of the new Canadian County Expo & Event Center.
• Agreements with two companies to provide free use of a tractor and ground hog implement in exchange for advertising space at the expo center arena.
Undersheriff Kevin Ward gave the weekly Canadian County Jail report showing 238 inmates in custody, with 184 in house and 54 in other counties.