By Michele Robertson Eddy County CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) is a volunteer network of committed individuals who believe society has a fundamental obligation to give abused and neglected children the opportunity to grow up in a safe and loving environment. ACASA volunteer is a trained citizen appointed by a judge to represent the best interests of a child in court. Volunteers help children, many of whom were abused or neglected, be placed in homes through the juvenile court system. Missy (Melissa) Chavez has been working at CASA for a year now, andshewas promoted from Assistant Director to Executive Director on August 1, 2020. “My personal reason for wanting to work here and also take cases, is because I can help our future by trying to recommend resources and make a connection with the child who has lost their personal connection with their biological parents. When a child is placed in the foster care system, it's hard for them to focus on family. I feel that family is a focal point of a child’s life, they learn love, compassion, forgiveness, sharing, responsibilities and these are important to an adult as they become an adult in our community. There’s a cycle happening, and I want to help intervene, these children are friends to many of our own children, ittakes a community to help. I want to be that help,” added Chavez. Positions with the office staff have also recently been reassigned, and two new employees have joined the team. Amy Wright has been with CASA for about a year and a half. She began as Program Assistant, and she has been promoted to the Assistant Director of CASA. Esmeralda Perez is the new Program Assistant/volunteer coordinator for the Carlsbad Office, and Meredith Mayberry is the new Program Assistant/volunteer coordinator for the Artesia Office. Volunteers are an essential part of the program, the Eddy County CASA staff relays to us their reasons for volunteering and working with CASA.“There are many reasons that I would like to become a volunteer/CASA staff member, but one reason right off the bat would have to be because I want to be a part of a child’s success,” Perez shared. “I want to be a part of the reason they thrive and make it out to positive outcomes. I would like to be a name that is mentioned when they are telling someonetheir story as to why they are where they are today, why they are rising, I want to be a piece of their heroic story. I also would like to give the child a sense of security and let them know they have endless possibilities. My goal is to positively affect as many lives as I can. If I can be there to help and make that difference, I want to be, and by becoming a CASA volunteer/staff member I know I can do just that and more,” “I’m passionate about child welfare. CASA is a program that provides the opportunity to support children in crisis, and I can’t think of a worthier cause,” Wright shared. Her primary role at CASA is “to recruit and train new CASA volunteers as we prepare to serve Eddy County’s most vulnerable population: the abused and neglected children in our community.”Mayberry is a new resident of Artesia who is excited to become a part of CASA and the community, she is passionate about working cross-culturally and helping people through challenging times. COVID-19 has changed the way volunteers interact with clients. “We have turned to the virtual platform. All our visits are done by phone, facetime, zoom meetings, text. We have discouraged our advocates going to the home of our children for now due to the COVID-19 for the safety of the children. If advocates need to go to the office,we highly encourage by appointment only, and we do ask the common questions about traveling and being exposed to the Covid,” Chavez said. “Our interactions are going well, but still hard, due to not meeting faceto face, which is much more comforting, personal, and more productive. Being able to see the emotions and sense the attitude of a child is so important and essential to our court reports, but we are trying our best to gather the information needed to inform the Judge of what is in the best interest of the child,” she added.Volunteers for CASA provide a judge with a detailed background on the child to help the court make an informed decision in regard to the child’s future. Volunteers offer the child a trusting support system during complex legal proceedings. They will explain to the child the events that are happening, why they are in court, and the role of each person in the courtroom. CASA volunteers do not represent the child in court, but rather express the child's wishes to the court and provide feedback on if those wishes are in the best interest of the child. The need for volunteers is great, “We are working with 110 children give or take a few numbers depending on cases dismissed and the amount is basically ½ of Carlsbad children and ½ for Artesia children. We have 22 volunteers and 7 in training at the present time. So, if anyone is interested please call our office either in Carlsbad or Artesia and we will meet with you. Of course, there is training provided, background checks, references as part of the process. This is a very important position and working with the children, their safety is our concern,” said Chavez. Not only is there a need for volunteers, there is also a need for board members. Current board members include: Cindy Polk (President) Artesia, Dustin Walker, (Vice President) Carlsbad, Don George (Treasurer) Carlsbad, Leslie Blunt (Secretary) Artesia, Terri Menefee (Board Member) Artesia, Tiffany Sedano-Weyant (Board Member) Carlsbad, Cindy Panzer (Board Member) Artesia. If you are interested in serving on the board, please contact the Carlsbad office at 575.887.5966 for more information. The Artesia office number is 575.746.6077. If you want to make a difference in the life of a child in need, give CASA a call to see how you can change a child’s story.