Metro-East News

CASA seeks ‘Super Hero’ volunteers for kids; invites public to Grizzlies game

A local agency whose volunteers serve as voices for children in juvenile court cases is seeking volunteers and inviting the public to a Gateway Grizzlies baseball game.

Mechiko White, executive director of CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates of Southwestern Illinois) wants the community to turn out to Super Heroes Night with the Grizzlies at GCS Ballpark in Sauget on Saturday evening. The starting pitch will be thrown at 7:05 p.m.

White said some of the proceeds will go to CASA.

“It’s Father’s Day weekend and a perfect opportunity to celebrate the hero in your family. Military dads get a $5 discount,” White said.

White is excited about the opportunity for families to have a great time at the game while also being able to help neglected and abused CASA children.

“Families should come early for fun outside of the gates. There will be balloon artists, visits with Batman, Captain America and other super heroes. Families are encouraged to come to the game in costume. There will be a costume parade and contest,” White said.

White said “children need super heroes and our mission is to recruit, train and support CASA volunteers to work for the best interest of abused and neglected children”

CASA of Southwestern Illinois is a nonprofit organization based in Belleville that serves children in St. Clair County, Madison and Monroe counties.

CASA serves more than 500 children a year. White said CASA is in need of volunteers to serve as their voice in cases that come before judges.

White said she needs volunteers in general, but she wants as many men to step up to the plate as possible.

Toni Brown, a longtime CASA volunteer, said a lot of children in East St. Louis need someone to testify in court on their behalf.

“I volunteer because the children need us to tell the judge about the situations they’re in and how they are doing. We talk with the foster parent and the children’s parents. All of this happens after we talk to the caseworker first,” Brown said.

She added, “We have to win the children’s confidence. A lot of children don’t express a lot about how they feel. If they’ve suffered a tragedy in their lives, it is hard for them to open up. They may not talk to their families about it. If they open up, maybe we can help them get past the tragedy.”

Brown said CASA has a lot of male children, and many of them feel it’s easier to talk to a male rather than a woman.

“We had an 8-year-old who suffered a tragedy and even though his family was supportive, he found it difficult to let them know how he really felt,” Brown said. “We were lucky enough to get a male volunteer who was able to get the young man to open up. I think it was because he was a male.”

Brown, a 10-year-volunteer, said from the time she started until now, she has seen the need for volunteers, particularly males.

Brown wants the Grizzlies ball park to be filled to capacity. She said every dollar CASA receives will help the children.

Yvonne Petito, a volunteer, said the need for more volunteers is critical.

“There are so many children in foster care, and social workers are overworked. They can’t be in the homes all of the time,” Petito said. “I read an article about a study that Harvard University did on kids in foster care. It said kids in foster care are two times as likely to suffer with PTSD when they get older.”

CASA volunteers come in and try to help the children navigate through the foster care system.

Petito said her mother died from cancer when she was 10. She said her father, an alcoholic, did his best to raise her and her five siblings.

“But it wasn’t enough. He was an alcoholic. I can understand what a lot of the children have gone through. I feel if I can help as many children as I can, I will have done my part to help them become productive adults. And, hopefully they won’t have to suffer from PTSD,” Petitio said.

She added, “We want them to be healthy, happy productive citizens.”

White said on average, children with CASA volunteers spend 7.5 months less in foster care, and they experience fewer out-of-home placements and have significantly improved educational performance.