Author: Ted Yoakum, March 13, 2017
Although they have yet to receive their first cases, the three newest members of the Cass County CASA (court-appointed special advocate) program all have some experience with the foster care system.
Niles’ Margaret Sevison has worked with many children living in foster care throughout her 38-year career as a first-grade and special education teacher with the Edwardsburg Public Schools system, she said. Long before that, though, she had an adopted sister, who lived with her and her family for several years before the girl was reunited with her birth mother.
For Suzanne Lind, who lives in the Jones area, her connection to foster care is even stronger — she was an adopted child herself.
As an adult, she and her husband, Tim, adopted three children of their own and raised them alongside their three biological children.
The couple, alongside Sevison, will have a chance to continue serving children displaced from their original homes as volunteers with the CASA program. The three were sworn in as the newest addition to the organization’s team of volunteer advocates by Cass County Probate Judge Susan Dobrich in a ceremony hosted last week at the county courthouse.
Cass County CASA — founded in 1995 by Dobrich — is an organization, independent of the court system, that works with local children in the foster care system. As volunteer advocates, the Linds and Sevison will spend 15 to 25 hours every month working with children assigned to them by the court, learning about their circumstances and helping them to find a foster family or become reunified with their biological parents.
In addition to serving as a voice and an advocate, CASA volunteers often serve as mentors and friends to their children — a fact Cass County Prosecutor Victor Fitz reminded the new inductees of in his remarks during last week’s ceremony.
“They [foster children] might not have received the best perspective in life from the adults they look up,” Fitz said. “But you can give them a perspective of stability, of someone who loves them, who cares about them and will make a difference in their lives. You will be someone they will remember the rest of their lives.”
In order to become volunteer advocates, the Linds and Sevison participated in around 40 hours worth of extensive training, which covered subjects such as the history of CASA, the workings of the child protective system and court reporting. In addition to talks by current CASA volunteers, the classes also consisted of some roleplaying exercises, where the participants had to simulate experiences such as taking on a new case or calling a foster care worker or parent.
“It felt a little like going back to school at times, with homework assignments and having to get up and study the manual they gave us,” Suzanne said.
For Suzanne and Tim, joining CASA marks the next chapter in their decades long mission to improve the lives of others. The couple spent nearly 30 years working on humanitarian projects across the Atlantic in Africa, serving in nations such as South Africa, Congo and Madagascar by helping people displaced in conflicts.
Now retired from their humanitarian work, the two decided to join CASA after Tim heard a report about the program on public radio.
“I see it as a way of giving back,” Suzanne said, referring to her own adoption as a child.
For Sevison, joining CASA serves as a natural extension of the work she has done for decades, working with children, in particular those who are struggling and in need.
The Niles woman retired from teaching in June, after nearly 40 years in Edwardsburg, 10 of which involved working with children in special education. Naturally, her time with the district exposed her to the child protective services system and to the children who may become wrapped up in it, she said.
“It can be a confusing time for kids, so I want to do whatever I can to help them through the process and hopefully become reunited with their families,” Sevison said.
Having seen first-hand the difference CASA can make in a child, the retired teacher jumped at the opportunity to join the agency herself as a way to continue to improve the lives of local youth, she said.
“I’m ready to receive my first case and get busy,” she said. “I want to apply what I have learned to continue to make a difference and give back.”
If you would like to explore the opportunity to be an advocate for children in foster care call Jim Ward at (269) 445-4431 ext. 2, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.