Judges, lawyers and friends all came out Saturday evening in support of Court Appointed Special Advocates and no matter who you spoke to, the message was clear: Children need volunteers to step up and be their voices.
The organization was created in 1977 when Seattle Judge David Soukup wanted to be sure he was getting all of the facts and the long-term welfare of the child was being represented.
"He obtained funding to recruit and train community volunteers to step into courtrooms on behalf of the children," said Mechiko White, executive director of CASA in St. Clair County.
Retired St. Clair County Judge Milton Wharton founded the St. Clair County CASA. And, as he looked around the packed ballroom at the Sheraton Four Points in Fairview Heights, he smiled.
The crowd came out to make donations, participate in silent and oral auctions to help raise money for CASA.
The one thing Wharton wants to see happen is more people volunteering to step up for the children in the community who are living in some rough situations.
"Volunteers are the heart and soul of CASA. They serve as the voices for abused and neglected children. They are the eyes and ears of the judge. Social workers can't provide all of the intense monitoring that's necessary," Wharton said.
White, who is a mother, said she is glad Wharton started CASA in St. Clair County. She said the need is great for the children here. "The judge has always been concerned about our community. This is just another way he stepped up to help make a difference. And, I am a firm believer that children need somebody they can trust to talk to and to listen to them. They need someone who will speak up and stand up for them," she said.
Richard Mark, president of Ameren Illinois, described CASA as " a wonderful organization." Mark says people need to step up and volunteer so that any child who needs an advocate can have one.
"I think it's a great cause. If you can do anything to help young people today you should do it. It would make our society a while lot better. Kids are our future," Mark said.
St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly received a plaque from CASA for all of the work he and his office does for children.
Kelly told members of the audience that he created a juvenile unit to deal with truancy cases, child support cases and other issue related to juveniles. While he fears for the future of children, he said he is not paranoid because of CASA. He talked of all of the television superheroes and said, "We still need heroes like Batman, Superman, Iron Man, Incredible Hulk, Captain America.
"We have needed and still need heroes who provide the voice for children to give children a chance at real life -- the life God intended for them," Kelly said.
Kelly said that children growing up in and around crime and poverty face challenges and that environment sends them into the criminal justice system.
"Children that are coming into the justice system are coming because adults have failed them. We need someone to be a voice for them and CASA can be one of those voices."
Toni Brown, a retired computer operator for Teamsters Local 688, became a volunteer for CASA after hearing her friend talk about what it did for children.
"I wanted to help make sure our kids are taken care of and are in good homes. And if, they go back to their birth parents home, I want to make sure that everything is OK and they're safe. Some of the kids miss being away from their homes, but they cannot be in unsafe environments," Brown said.
She said very little children really have an affect on her. She wants more people in the community to heed the organization's call for them to get involved as volunteers.
"The children need them. We need males and female, but we especially need males because we have a lot of teenage males who listen to males better," Brown said.
HOW TO HELP
To get more information to volunteer for Court Appointed Special Advocates, call 234-4278.
Contact reporter Carolyn P. Smith at 618-239-2503.