A recent ceremony added two more local Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) to serve children through Northwest Ohio CASA.

CASA volunteers serve as a voice for children that have experienced abuse or neglect. These volunteers advocate in juvenile court for the best interests of the child, with Northwest Ohio CASA reporting a child is then more likely to find a safe, permanent home; more likely to be adopted; substantially less likely to spend time in long-term foster care; and half as likely to re-enter foster care.

The local program began as Henry County CASA in 1991, transitioning to an independent non-profit organization in 1996. In 2017, the CASA services expanded into Defiance and Williams counties, and expanded to Paulding County in 2020.

The ceremony held Wednesday by Henry County Family Court Judge Denise McColley welcomed Linda Piasecki and Samara Covarrubias as volunteers.

McColley noted the CASA volunteers need to go through training in order to be appointed, and they must receive continued training each year. She added she served as a guardian before becoming court magistrate and then judge.

“Your willingness to do this — especially because you’re volunteering, you’re not getting paid to do this — is really remarkable,” McColley said. “We are so thankful for our CASAs. We couldn’t do this work without it.”

McColley said circumstances over the past couple of years has led to an increase in the need for these services.

“Our workload has increased dramatically, primarily because of drug usage, but other things too, in the past two years,” she said. “I don’t think there is any way on Earth we could do this without the CASA program. We are totally grateful for what you’re doing, it’s a wonderful thing.”

McColley noted much has been done virtually through the pandemic, including the current training for volunteers. However, she said the new volunteers will become more acquainted with those involved in the program over time, and children are still in need of services despite COVID-19.

“Once we get back to normal, it will be a little easier, I think,” she said. “I appreciate you doing this during a pandemic.”

“I believe it is an honor to be able to help kids and help in the court system,” Piasecki told the Northwest Signal. “I thought it was great training — it was on Zoom, but it was still great. I can’t wait to dig in to the process.”

“I am excited to help make a difference with children, that’s why I joined the program,” Covarrubias said. “I’m really excited to become familiar with more people throughout the program, once COVID starts to disappear. I’m really excited to help kids and make a difference.”

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