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CASA volunteer likes feeling that she is helping children and families

by Merrie Leininger

The feeling that she has helped a child is what keeps Gail Almasi involved in CASA.

Almasi saw an ad about Court Appointed Special Advocates in 1993, and, thinking back to problems in her childhood, decided to sign up for the classes to become a CASA volunteer.

“I thought if I had somebody like this in my life when I was a child, I wouldn’t have had so many problems,” she said.

A CASA is a person who works as a liaison for the judge. CASAs spend time with families who are going through a custody battle or have criminal charges pending. The CASA then advises the judge what is the best option for the children.

Although the application process is lengthy, Almasi said it is worth it.

“You have to write a lot of essays that make you examine your motives and your own inner self,” she said.

Knowing how much she helps the judges in making tough decisions is a good feeling, also, she said.

“I know the judges need some help. There is only so much they can do in court. They can’t go to the houses and see how things really are. If they are sitting on the fence, maybe our report is what they need to make a good decision,” she said.

n First case. Almasi said the first case she had after her training was the most difficult.

She said she was not prepared for the emotional involvement in a difficult child custody case.

“The perception by both parents is so different and neither wants to see it through the other’s eyes,” she said. “And I believe both parents are needed. Both have something to add to that child.”

In that case, the parents were so antagonistic toward each other, they didn’t realized the damage they were causing their 2-year-old, who couldn’t even speak up for herself.

Almasi and her husband, Donald, have one son and a grandchild and are in the process of adopting a little boy.

She said a person doesn’t necessarily have to be a parent to qualify for CASA, but has to be open-minded and understand a little bit about child development.

“All kids are different. Something that worked in my house may not work in another. You just need the commitment to really want to help somebody else,” Almasi said.

n Someone to listen. She said she has not encountered a lot of hostility directed at her. Almasi said some people need time to warm up to the CASA, but most just need to bend an ear.

“Sometimes they just want somebody to listen to them. They don’t believe the judge was listening to them and they don’t feel real intimidated by the CASA because they’re not up there on the bench,” she said.

Although she sometimes gets very attached to some children, Almasi said the feeling she is doing good overcomes any emotional fallout.

“There are some sleepless nights when I have to write a report, but it never occurred to me to walk away,” she said. “When I visit them and I get the big smile – that’s real nice.”

She had one mother called her over the holidays to let her know how much her life had turned around.

“The wife and husband were both in jail and one child was placed with the grandma and one was in a facility. Nobody really thought they would make it,” Almasi said. “She wanted me to know how things had turned around. It was nice to know I did make a difference.”

n Observe. She has two cases now, but normally she only has time for one because she also works full time. She said the most time the program takes is the first month on a new case when she has to visit everyone involved and establish a trust.

“You have to listen to what the children have to say or just observe the little ones who can’t talk,” she said. “You can tell with a toddler who acts differently at mom’s or dad’s. If they act the same at both places, they are probably well-rounded. If there is some hostility, there is probably some reason for that.”

n Training. Anyone who is interesting in getting more information about the program or about training to become a CASA can call Douglas County Coordinator Jenean Clement at 782-6247.

A training session is planned to start Feb. 1. To take part in the training, participants need to sign up with Clement no later than Jan. 25.

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