CASA’s Light of Hope Campaign helps the abused and neglected

By Stephen D. Spainhour

What a site it was, over three thousand white stakes with blue ribbons blowing elegantly in the wind across from the Juvenile court in downtown Memphis. A true testament to the heart of our volunteers, over sixty community members came together on the last Saturday in March in 2009 to build an honorarium to the thousands of abused and neglected children in our community who still did not have advocates looking out for their best interests in the Shelby County Juvenile Court. These white stakes were hammered into the ground that day—each representing an abused or neglected child who went through the court system the year before without a CASA volunteer to speak for them. The display—the Light of Hope Awareness Project—was erected as an effort of CASA of Memphis and Shelby County to bring attention to the problem of child abuse and the need for child advocates during National Child Abuse Prevention Month.

In 1986, CASA of Memphis and Shelby County began training volunteer child advocates. CASA volunteers are ordinary people from a wide variety of backgrounds. After training, most CASA volunteers work one case at a time, which is appointed to them by a Juvenile Court judge. They conduct thorough research on the background of the case, review documents, and interview everyone involved with the child: pediatricians, school teachers, neighbors, family members, and others. After completing their research, CASA volunteers summarize their findings in a report for the court and make a recommendation for the placement of the child. Over 97% of the time, the court makes all or part of its ruling based on the CASA volunteer’s recommendations.

Ask any CASA volunteer and he or she will be quick to tell you that the most rewarding part of his or her work is in the relationships—not in the courtroom. Very often, volunteers are the only constant a child knows as he moves through the labyrinth of the child welfare system. His parents may abandon him, the system may confuse and dishearten him, but his CASA volunteer is always there for him; that makes a difference, and that is what makes this organization unique and valuable.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. To spread awareness of the problem and enable citizens to help, CASA of Memphis and Shelby County is constructing the Light of Hope project once again. Beginning on March 27th, an ocean of white stakes and blue ribbons will fill the park across from the Memphis and Shelby County Juvenile Courthouse. Each stake will again represent an abused or neglected child who journeyed through the juvenile justice system last year without a CASA volunteer to advocate on his behalf. This year, there will be over 3,300 stakes—the need is that great.

CASA invites you to join them in the fight against child abuse by sponsoring a Light of Hope stake for $10.00. The funds raised from stake sponsorship will go towards training and supporting CASA volunteers to speak on behalf of the children. You are also invited to assist CASA in hammering the stakes into the ground across from the Juvenile Court on March 27th at 10 am.

Abused and neglected children need your voice—your advocacy—today. Give them a light of hope for the future. Please sponsor or volunteer; call CASA today at 901-522-0200 or visit the website at memphiscasa.org.

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