A “CASA volunteer” supporting a young boy with her hand on his shoulder.
A “CASA volunteer” supporting a young boy with her hand on his shoulder. (CASA of Santa Barbara County photo)

As we get ready celebrate the holidays with our families and friends this holiday season let’s also take some time to think about giving back to our communty.

Join Noozhawk this #GivingTuesday and make a donation to your favorite local nonprofit.

Noozhawk is teaming up with local nonprofits to encourage you to take part in this international day of giving, which takes place on November 29th, 2022.

It is no secret that these past couple of years have been full of challenges and thats why local nonprofits need your support now more than ever. Our Good for Santa Barbara Nonprofit Section provides all the resources you need to donate this holiday season!

In this interview, Noozhawk spoke with Kim Davis, Executive Director for Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) to learn more about how the nonprofit is dedicated to assuring a safe, permanent, nurturing home for all abused and/or neglected children by providing a highly trained volunteer to advocate for them in the court system.

CASA of Santa Barbara County

Question: What is the name & mission of your nonprofit?

Answer: The mission of Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Santa Barbara County is to assure a safe, permanent, nurturing home for all abused and/or neglected children by providing a highly trained volunteer to advocate for them in the court system.

Q: How long has your nonprofit been in service and whom was it started by?

A: CASA is celebrating 30 years of service to the Santa Barbara Community! Our local program was founded by a group of women in Santa Barbara who saw a need for community volunteers in the juvenile justice system.

Q: How is your nonprofit primarily funded and what are your greatest needs?

A: CASA of Santa Barbara County has diversified it’s funding resources to include individual donors, private foundations, grants, government contracts, event fundraising, and in-kind donations. Also counted as an in-kind contribution, volunteer hours make up the largest portion of CASA’s support. Adding up to more than $500,000 each year, the value of volunteer hours is what keeps our organization moving forward.

Right now, our greatest need is volunteers. In the past two years, our waiting list has grown to more than 100 children – children whom are navigating the foster care system without a dedicated CASA volunteer. Volunteers spend on average 10-12 hours a month, after the initial training. Our program provides all of the training and ongoing support you need to be a successful advocate, we just need your time and consistency! Volunteers must be over the age of 21 and complete a background check.

If you are unable to volunteer or it is not the right time, consider becoming a monthly donor and join our Circle of Hope! By automatically giving every month, you help us manage our budget knowing we can count on your steady giving. It’s a great way to show support for our volunteers and the children they serve! Sign up here.

Q: What types of fundraisers and/or programs does your nonprofit run?

A: This year, we are holding our annual gala event on February 4th, “Mardi Gras” benefiting CASA of Santa Barbara County! It will be held at the Craft House at Hotel Corque. It’s going to be such a fun event, with a silent auction, live auction, delicious drinks, food, and an exclusive VIP after party you won’t want to miss! Make sure you are subscribed to our email newsletter to get updates when tickets go on sale. To sponsor our event or donate an auction item, email kira@sbcasa.org.

Q: How do people get involved/volunteer for your nonprofit?

A: We hold information sessions weekly for potential volunteers to learn all they need to know and have all their questions answered! It’s a great way to learn about CASA, without making the full commitment just yet, we highly recommend attending an informational session. After learning about CASA, volunteers will apply online, interview, then join a training class!

A CASA volunteer and a youth.

A CASA volunteer and a youth. (CASA of Santa Barbara County photo)

Other than becoming a CASA volunteer, we could use the community’s help in spreading the word about CASA. Whether you invite us to speak at your club, business, or group of friends, being able to tell more people about CASA always helps. Even just by sharing our social media posts, you can inspire someone to get involved or donate, ultimately helping a child.

Q: What makes your nonprofit different from others?

A: Being a CASA volunteer is different than being a mentor, the largest difference is that our volunteers are empowered by the courts and the juvenile court judge to gather information from all of the adults involved in a child life. They are able to talk with the child’s teacher, coaches, therapist, doctors, lawyers, social workers, parents, caregivers, neighbors, etc. CASA volunteers gather information to form their court report – an official document that is submitted to the court before hearings – about every 6 months.

The role of a CASA volunteer is a professional one – but you do not need any special experience or qualifications in order to become a volunteer.

Q: What is one best kept secret or fun fact about your nonprofit that not everyone knows?

A: We are so proud that out of our 15 employees –

– Half have been with CASA over 5 years

– One third have been with CASA over 10 years

– One third started as a CASA volunteer before joining the staff

– With the exception of new positions being added, all staff have been with CASA for at least two years

When our day-to-day job involved reading stories about severe child abuse and neglect, the staff at CASA remains committed and invigorated to push forward in the best interest of the child. Because of the nature of our work, our volunteers stick with a case until it closes. We see where children start out, but we also get to see the success of when they find their forever home.

Q: Can you share one or two stories of individuals whose lives have been changed because of your organization?

A: Some children make you work extremely hard for a smile, a laugh, or a glimmer of happiness.

8-year-old Gracie is one of those kids – and no one would blame her after hearing what she has been through. From an early age, she witnessed countless instances of domestic violence. Her parents had a tumultuous relationship aggravated by drug and alcohol use. Gracie was seven years old when the court determined that she was not safe in her home and placed her in a safe foster home while her parents had the chance to recover from addiction and learn new parenting and partnership skills.

CASA volunteer Donna started advocating for Gracie right away, but quickly noticed that she was the most stoic child she had ever met. With more than 10 years as a CASA volunteer, she had never had to work so hard for a smile. It became a challenge – what is going to help this child feel the happiness she deserves? What is going to help this child be a child?

CASA Donna got Gracie a brand-new backpack and matching water bottle for back to school thanks to some CASA donors – Gracie said “thank you” quietly and moved on.

Then, Gracie got suspended at school for fighting.

Desperate to find a way to help this child, CASA Donna investigated therapeutic horse-riding classes. She was able to push to get the paperwork all signed and submitted, and Gracie had her first session scheduled.

Then it happened – the bright smile CASA Donna had been waiting for.

Gracie was in awe of the horses and treated them gently, with compassion, and care. Quite remarkable for a child who has only known violence. She looked so comfortable on top of the horse and had a giant smile on her face. It was obvious that this was just what Gracie needed. CASA Donna’s smile may have been even bigger, seeing the outcome of her persistence and dedication to helping Gracie find hope through the chaos that had taken over her life.

With hope, comes resilience. With hope, comes healing. With hope, comes a brighter future.

Gracie’s time in the foster care system is far from over. Her parents are working to reunify with her but that comes with so many challenges. Now, though, Gracie has new tools and an outlet to work through her past trauma. CASA Donna is committed to Gracie’s safety and will advocate for her needs as they come. Right now, she is simply happy to see Gracie smiling.

Q: How does the work of your nonprofit get communicated to the public?

A: We often publish e-newsletters, but you can follow us on social media for more consistent updates and photos of what our volunteers and staff are up to in the community! https://www.facebook.com/sbcasa/.

Q: Why should donors trust your organization and are there other ways to help outside of donations?

A: We earned the Platinum Seal of Transparency from Candid, as we have all of our audited financial reports available for public viewing on our website. We strive to operate in the best interest of the child in all aspects of what we do, and that means being transparent and responsible with financial support.

Community groups and supporters are always welcome to help make the holidays special for the children we serve! Whether that means donating Christmas gifts, putting together valentine bags, back to school backpacks, or even writing thank you notes to volunteers, the little things help show our kids and volunteers that their community is behind them! We encourage you to reach out to our Associate Director of Donor Engagement, Kira, at kira@sbcasa.org or 805-357-2595 to brainstorm how you’d like to make a difference.

Click here to support CASA of Santa Barbara County’s mission to assure a safe, permanent, nurturing home for all abused and/or neglected children.

Check out Noozhawk’s Guide to Giving for a full list of nonprofits to donate to this giving season.