Employees at Chevron Pascagoula Refinery recently supported a My BELONGings donation drive that helped CASA of Southeast Mississippi.
Chevron filled dozens of duffel bags with essentials and comfort items, so children entering the foster care system had something to call their own. Cash donations also supported the purchase of gift cards that CASA volunteers can use to purchase items for teenagers entering the system.
CASA was piloted in 1977 by then Superior Court Judge David Soukup of Seattle, Wash., to recruit and train community volunteers to ensure that the judicial system represented each child’s long-term welfare. More recently, CASA has been used among critical first steps recommended to bring under control the “national emergency” of child abuse and neglect, which touches people from all walks of life in America today. The program fulfills a critical need throughout the year with dedicated community awareness efforts and its ongoing commitment to protecting our most vulnerable populations.
The mission of CASA of Southeast Mississippi is to recruit and train community volunteers to advocate for the child’s best interest in the Youth Court System due to abuse or neglect. Based on the belief that each child is entitled to a safe, permanent home, trained CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) volunteers work with the court system in collaboration with other involved agencies, legal counsel, and available community resources to serve as that child’s voice in court. CASA strives to ensure that each child is placed in a safe, permanent, loving, and nurturing home as soon as possible.
CASA is a national organization with over 939 programs in 49 states serving 242,000 children annually, with over 97,900 volunteers nationwide. There are currently CASA programs in 12 counties in Mississippi. CASA has been actively serving the children in the Jackson County Youth Court system since 1985 and expanded into George and Greene Counties in 2023. Our June figures show 107 volunteers, serving 146 children and youth, with 1,563 donated service hours.
Thanks to the generosity of wonderful community donors throughout the year, CASA can meet most of the children’s material needs. Donors provide gifts of school supplies, clothing and uniforms, diapers and hygiene items, books and toys for the children at Christmas, birthday gifts, and many specific individual needs.
“Chevron has been an amazing community partner. Chevron has been a generous donor/sponsor for our major annual fundraiser, CASA Blues. The individual Chevron employees have served the children at Christmas through Operation Candy Cane for several years. December of 2022, this group provided the wishes for 90 of our children. Our building was literally filled with individual bags of wrapped gifts, including clothes, toys, bikes, and games” said Frances Allsup, Executive Director of CASA of Southeast Mississippi.
For this reason and countless others, Chevron was awarded the CASA 2023 Champion for Children Award.
“Our employees never pass up an opportunity to help the community where they live and work. The folks from CASA came to the refinery and shared statistics about the hundreds of children in the foster care system here locally. It was eye-opening to realize how much help was needed by the children serviced by CASA. I’m proud our team could come together and do something to help give those children a sense of comfort when they’re faced with such uncertainty,” said Pascagoula Refinery Director Tim Potter.
“In addition, when we reached out this year and made Katarina Scott and Courtney Poole aware of our needs for MyBELONGings items and our critical storage issues, Katarina came to the CASA office and saw for herself how great the need was. She then reached out to her contacts and secured the use of a storage facility to store all of the items the employees donated during the spring drive. She and her colleague Amber Farley personally delivered the donations, which were sorted and bagged for distribution to the local storage site,” Allsup shared.
Monetary donations are always appreciated, but volunteers are always needed at CASA.
“Our most pressing ongoing need is for volunteers. For the past several months, Jackson County has ranked number one, two, or three in the state for children in custody. Since our 2022 expansion into George and Greene Counties, we have worked hard to recruit and train additional volunteers to serve the children in these areas. We have a Facebook page to inform community members of volunteer training and upcoming events. Our staff is always ready to speak to groups interested in learning about the CASA program, mission, and volunteering.”
Volunteers must be at least 21 years of age and go through a background screening process. The pre-service volunteer training involves about 30 hours of time, and the National CASA curriculum allows much of the work to be done independently at the participant’s schedule. They meet once a week for six weeks for in-person sessions, which are held in the evening and last about an hour and a half. The volunteer will then do courtroom observations and be sworn in by the youth court judge. Actual case time varies, but a typical volunteer spends about 4 hours working the case and with their child (children) during the month. A typical case length is about two years, and the ages of children served are from 0-21 years old.
Thanks to supportive community partners like Chevron and dedicated volunteers, CASA of Southeast MS can continue to serve and advocate for children in Jackson, George, and Greene Counties. There were 432 cases last year in these counties alone, requiring the help of CASA and CASA volunteers.
“Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much.” -Helen Keller