CASA Continues to Look for African American Volunteers

Ken Herman, Statesman, July 24, 2012

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Back in May, I wrote about an ambitious effort by CASA, an organization that trains volunteers to be court-appointed special advocates for abused and neglected kids. The goal is simple and race-based. A third of the Central Texas kids served by CASA are black, but only 6 percent of CASA’s 1,200 volunteers are black.

At a May event at Huston-Tillotson University, CASA officials and others explained why more African American volunteers are needed. Vicki Spriggs, CASA’s state chief executive officer, told me black kids do better with black CASA volunteers. “It just makes it easier for the child to form a bond with that volunteer,” Spriggs said. “It’s one less barrier, one less thing to think about, as opposed to thinking, ‘Is this person going to understand me?’ ”

Most of us yearn for a colorblind world. And most of us wish all of us—even kids in need of help—could look beyond the skin color of a well-meaning volunteer who shows up to help. But, according to Spriggs and others involved with CASA, skin color can matter to these kids, kids whose lives are challenged beyond what any kid should have to face.

So CASA, turning to black churches and other institutions with ties to the African American community, launched the recruitment drive.

Two months probably is too soon to begin measuring results, but, to date, the numbers are unimpressive. Katherine Kerr, Texas CASA’s communications and public relations manager, told me CASA of Travis County has received four applications “and an additional three inquiries” from African Americans. CASA of Williamson County has received three applications and four inquiries from blacks.

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CASA officials see a great need for a community self-help program here, one in which African American adults are uniquely positioned to help African American kids.

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It’s more of a commitment than showing up for a march or a candlelight vigil. And that’s why it’s probably more valuable.

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