Peggy Grose - Author of 'Love and Lemon Pie'
Unlike any other book I know about, this volume offers the nourishment required to sustain us both physically and spiritually. 'Love and Lemon Pie' is an extension of its author, because, like her, it is an authentic expression of love.
Bob Lively
Author and Austin American-Statesman columnist

This book is dedicated to families and children everywhere. Ten percent of the profits will be donated to CASA of Travis County, Inc., a nonprofit agency which provides trained guardians ad litem to represent children who have been removed from their homes because of abuse or neglect. These Court CASA of Travis County
Appointed Special Advocates are each assigned one child or family of children, for whom they advocate from the time the children are removed from the home until a safe, permanent home is found. Sometimes, they maintain contact into adulthood.

CASA volunteers, appointed by the judge, spend hours researching and gathering information which they bring to the judge, with the ultimate goal of finding a safe, permanent home for each child. They spend time with the children, transporting them to appointments, listening to their problems, and generally looking after their interests. They spend hours making phone calls to caseworkers, attorneys, teachers, family members, foster parents, and therapists, in addition to appearing in court to deliver their reports to the judge. Occasionally they supervise parental visits.

There are over 42,000 CASA volunteers nationwide, with 710 CASA programs in all 50 states. A judge in Seattle, Washington started the program in 1977 because he needed more information about the children than he was getting in order to make the right decisions for them. He envisioned well-trained citizens in the community providing the court with a wealth of information and the child with a constant trusted friend. By 1982 the National Court Appointed Special Advocate Association was formed. It has been endorsed by the American Bar Association, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, and the Office of Juvenile Justice And Delinquency Prevention of the U. S. Department of Justice. CASA of Travis County was formed in 1985 with the help of a grant made by the Junior League of Austin.

Karen Cox, executive director of CASA, became involved out of an early experience of her own. She knew what it was like to be a child in court with no advocate. She declares, "I cannot tell you how devastating it is to be a child, to speak, and have no one listen". When Karen was 6, her mother died and she and her sister were left with a mentally ill father. Thank goodness, their grandparents learned of the situation and, in a series of dramatic events, rescued the girls.

Karen's CASA child, whom we will call "Mary", was in a very abusive situation. The blue-eyed, blond girl, on crutches with cerebral palsy, was first beaten with a 2 x 4 by her mother's boyfriend and later sexually abused by him. When she was abused in the foster home where she was placed, she asked to be returned home. "There, at least, I know who to be afraid of and maybe I can protect my brothers", she insisted. This story has a happy ending. Mary needed surgery, which her mother had opposed, but, with the
help of the CPS caseworker and CASA volunteer, she had the surgery and was given a wheelchair. She was placed in a second foster home and completed rehabilitation following the surgery.

Now, this child was not free for adoption and long-term foster care wasn't the best solution. Karen and the caseworker searched for any relatives, anywhere, who might come to Mary's aid. Sure enough, the grandparents were located and they took her across the country and into their home. Of course, Karen continued contact with Mary and, four years ago, attended her high school graduation. Mary later brought her boyfriend to meet Karen. The attorney who handled Mary's case commented, "We would never have come to this happy conclusion without the CASA worker".

Karen stresses the importance of having been given much authority by the courts and access to records and information. She says the judges depend greatly upon the CASA volunteers' information and opinions before making decisions that affect the children. They work closely with the Child Protective Services caseworkers, attorneys and therapists, as well as the judges. "It's in the best interest of the child if you go into the court as a team", she declares. She goes on to say that she looks upon CASA, not as a band-aid, but a means of getting to the source of the problem and that, "The difference that we make is astounding". She also avows that the CASA agency is a wonderful place to work. Her husband commented recently, I've never seen you so happy.

Melissa Ferrell is another volunteer whose philosophy is, "To whom much is given, much is expected", and she appears to live out that belief. She confides that children are where her heart is and that CASA volunteers are the most wonderful people in the world. She stresses that the importance of CASA is that each volunteer works hands-on with one child or one sibling group, is consistent, and is there for the long haul. While she praises CPS caseworkers as dedicated and hardworking, she points out how shorthanded and overburdened they are.

Melissa currently works with young twin boys whose home background is horrifying, but she is seeing evidence that, with a lot of love and redirecting, they are making a turnaround. Melissa simply glows when she tells of how they squeal with delight when she calls them on the phone and how they are learning manners, appropriate behavior in the company of others, and how to function within structure and limits.

Melissa talks about her hollow victories as an attorney. "A win or loss for a large company is absorbed into the bottom line, but Timmy and Jimmy can't afford to lose. For them, the stakes are too high", she admits and goes on to say, "My life is enriched by every conversation I have with them".

As Melissa explains her ministry, she recalls the story about the starfish, which goes something like this: A huge number of starfish were grounded on the beach one day, when an individual saw them and began gathering as many as he could, tossing them back into the sea. Another person came along and protested, "What's the use? There are too many of them for you to make a difference". The rescuer responded, as he held up one little starfish, "True, but I can make a huge difference to this one". With so many abused and neglected children out there, think of the difference made in the lives of the children served.

Because there are not enough volunteers to match with each child in the legal system, CASAs are assigned to the most severe cases or the cases with the greatest need and fewest resources available. To serve all the children in need, CASA has to grow. Another factor adding to the urgency is a 1997 law mandating that a child achieve permanency within 12 months of the case entering the system. Thus the need to assign a CASA volunteer immediately to ensure that all crucial details involving the child are heard.

CASA volunteer Jeanene Smith observes that these children demonstrate grave concern for their siblings, all out of proportion to their ages--a heavy burden for ones so young and so needy themselves. She says she serves as mediator, guide, cheerleader, sounding board, and part-time mom.

Not all cases have happy endings and the one to which Jeanene is currently assigned is one of those. She can't promise these five kids that everything will be perfect, but she can assure them she'll stick with them. Her first goal is to get them to a safe place, then the work of nurturing, healing and growth can begin to take place.

Jeanene compares CASA volunteers with the Good Samaritan in the parable told by Jesus. The expression "good Samaritan" was an oxymoron--in people's minds, there was no such thing as a "good Samaritan". And remember, two people, including a priest, passed the wounded traveler before the Samaritan stopped to help him. Likewise, many children served by CASA are passed by and left wounded on the proverbial side of the road. CASA volunteers get to do the highest
calling by bandaging up the wounds of these small travelers, ensuring that they have shelter and food and providing what they so desperately need: a voice.

"Because we're in a volunteer situation", Jeanene explains, "we can ask questions that paid caseworkers are not permitted to ask. We can talk about personal matters, ask them how they like their childhood. 'We can pull strings, shake money out of the trees,' and otherwise get creative." She points out the support and respect that are given to CASA workers by the judges.

Jeanene admonishes everyone who doesn't know about CASA to find out. "Everyone can do something," she insists. "Be an advocate or just help in the office, stuffing envelopes, running errands, making phone calls. Or--just write a check".

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