Vicki Preston has five children of her own, but in the past five years, she's helped provide a stable life to many more.
She's taken them out for dinner, asked them questions about their family and gotten to know them on a personal basis.
As a member of Court Appointed Special Advocates of Carson City, Preston, 51, also accompanies children to court hearings.
"CASA volunteers tend to be a little passionate," she said. "We tend to butt heads a couple of times with social workers or the attorneys or whoever, but it's usually because something's not being done that should be, or something is being done that shouldn't be."
CASA volunteers go through 10 three-hour training sessions that take them through the various segments of working with a child who has been removed from the home because of neglect or abuse.
New volunteers are introduced to the social workers, the court system, the judge, the district attorneys and other trainees. They will go into court to witness other volunteers in action.
"I would never tell anyone there's not a lot of work," Preston said. "And there are times when it can be pretty anguishing, but in the end it's been pretty rewarding. When everything works out, I say 'That's why I do it.' The kids know they have a safe place, and somebody cares."
After training, volunteers are assigned a child. Typically, the case has gone through the first steps of hearings. The CASA worker then gets together with social workers and attorneys to establish case plan outlining expectations for the parents to reach before the child can be returned, and for the care for the child in the meantime.
"A lot of the times mom and dad need counseling, will be tested for drugs and alcohol or need to do an in-treatment plan," Preston said.
The CASA worker reports on whether he or she thinks the parents are meeting their objectives at a court hearing, which occurs every three months, and can agree or disagree with recommendations made by the district attorney and social worker and even with the desire of the child.
"Little Johnny may want to go back and live with his dad, but I may think that would be contrary to his well-being due to drugs or alcohol, or a lot of times there's domestic violence involved with this," Preston said.
The next CASA training is scheduled for Oct. 13. Chris Bayer, director of CASA since 1997, said the number of children in the program has grown from about 15 when he started volunteering in 1993 to about 50. He blames the increase on methamphetamine.
"One of big issues is methamphetamine use," he said. "About 80 percent of the cases we get have some meth use by the parents involved."
There are currently 23 CASA volunteers. Training occurs several times a year. Nationwide, there are more than 50,000 volunteers advocating for between 200-250 thousand children.
"Many of these kids have never had a stable place to live," Preston said. "It's just knowing that you played a part in getting them to where they're not slipping through the cracks. They are walking that fence - am I going to be a contributing member of society or a drag on society? Working with them, you can tell they're going to be great young adults."
n Contact reporter Maggie O'Neill at email@example.com or 881-1219.
If You Go
What: CASA of Carson City training
When: 4-7 p.m. Oct. 13, first of 10 sessions
Who: Anyone with interest can come, they do not have to commit
Where: Juvenile Court Building, 1545 E. Fifth St.
Requirements: Must be 21, undergo a background check and training
Information: Call Chris Bayer, director of CASA, at 882-6776. Also see www.casaofcc.org on the Internet
Also, attend CASA's major fundraiser of the year
What: The CASA pasta fest
Where: First Presbyterian Church, corner of Nevada and Musser streets
When: 6:30-9:30 p.m. Oct. 14
Cost: Platinum $1,000 for a table; Gold $500 for a table; Silver $200 for a table; Individual: adult, $20; 13-18, $10; 6-12, $5; 6 and under, free
Entertainment: The BAC Stage Kids, raffles, the Miriam Blanchette School of Irish Dance, a silent auction and more
Information: CASA at 882-6776