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CASA, Kiwanis team up to help children

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POLSON — It was “buffalo burger time,” but that’s not all.

CASA of Lake and Sanders Counties held continuing education training for 12 court appointed special advocates on Feb. 13 in conjunction with the Kiwanis’ 21st annual Buffalo Feed.

The Kiwanis recently donated two containers of activities and goodies for CASA volunteers to share with the children they interact with. Barbara Monaco, chair of the local Kiwanis board, said the effort includes 14 CASA organizations across the state. Those activities and goodies can come in handy, because a CASA volunteer is appointed by the court to represent the best interests of a child within two weeks of when one is removed from a home.

The volunteer remains on the case until a decision is reached regarding where the child will live permanently, including whether the child will return to a parent or is placed in a foster home and eventually adopted.

“We try to finish a case within 18 months (per state law),” said local CASA director Ann Marie McNeel, who’s been in the position 3.5 years.

The local CASA branch, located at 701 First St. E., is non-profit and has 17 volunteers, although more are welcome.

Viktra Bumgarner, who has volunteered for two years, said she finds it “very fulfilling and purposeful.”

Carol Banghart and her husband Dick have been volunteering for 14 years. Carol calls it “a very rewarding experience.”

CASA volunteers average around 10 hours a month per case, although one typically puts in more hours when first starting, McNeel said. This is because it takes a while to learn what’s required.

“It just takes a desire to help and the stomach to do it. It’s not easy, what we do,” McNeel said.

“You’ve got to be able to go home and shut it off,” said CASA volunteer Cheri Stenmoe, although she said there are some sleepless nights.

The vast majority of the volunteers are women. Some are retired and some work.

CASA volunteers receive 30 hours of initial training and are then sworn-in by a district court judge. They receive 12 hours of continuing education a year, and serve as a guardian ad litem for children when Child Protective Services removes a child from a home. This typically occurs when treatment or inhome services don’t work as intended.

CASA has a golf scramble at Polson Country Club once a year. This year’s event will be held April 22 and costs $70 per person.

For more information about CASA, call 883- 0158.

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