By Tony Parra: PNT Staff Writer
Court Appointed Special Advocates from Clovis and Portales are trying to combat the child abuse in Roosevelt County with the help of volunteers.
April is considered National Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness month. There are more than 380 children abused or neglected in Curry and Roosevelt Counties. Workers and volunteers from CASA held a ceremony at the lawn of the Roosevelt County Courthouse on Thursday.
CASA volunteers set up white and red candles on the sidewalk spelling out the word “hope.” During the ceremony, a young female recounted her story about living with foster parents and about the help she received from CASA volunteers and staff.
The young girl talked about how her mother suffered with alcohol problems while members of the community listened.
The girl who was helped by CASA said she had to go into foster care at the age of 13, but she learned to see the good in her situation and now plans to go to college and be a pediatrician.
Don Holden, Children’s Youth and Families Director of the office in Portales, said there are presently 41 children under the care of substitute parents in Roosevelt County. He praised CASA staff and volunteers for their work.
Gilliland was at the ceremony along with Catharine Johnson, CASA program director, and CASA staff member Cynthia Lindeman.
“I’m honored to be a part of something so important in a person’s life,” Lindeman said. “It’s not just a case folder. It’s someone’s life.”
Gilliland said there are about 32 volunteers that help with more than 70 cases involving 125 children.
Gilliland said background checks are conducted and volunteers must be trained for 30 hours. Gilliland stressed CASA volunteers do not make decisions on the child’s welfare, but rather recommendations.
“I looked for an opportunity to help youth,” Erin Freel, CASA volunteer, said.
Freel said during her nine months of being a volunteer she discovered something else besides gaining experience for her field.
“It’s been heartbreaking,” Freel said. “But when they start to open up to you and when you help them, it’s the best feeling you can have. I definitely think child abuse is a hidden sin. It’s up to the community to shed a light on the problem and help.”
The CASA office is located in Clovis. CASA staff members said they are looking for volunteers from Portales and there is a need for bilingual volunteers.
Joshua Coltes of Cannon Air Force Base has been a volunteer for approximately one year.
“There are cases where the child can’t give their point of view,” Coltes said. “We are there to be their voice. Some of them are too young and unable to speak.”
Anyone interested in being a volunteer can contact CASA at 769-3227.
“We want volunteers who want to make a difference in a child’s life,” Gilliland said. “We offer internships for ENMU (Eastern New Mexico University) students who are going into social work.”