Children in Western New York may have to look elsewhere for help now that the Court Appointed Special Advocates has lost its state funding.
Though no service agency wants to hear that its funding is being cut, for the Chautauqua County CASA, the abrupt timing of the news that state funding for its program was being eliminated carried an extra sting.
"We had no inkling that this was coming," said Kathy Park, program director. "The state funding cuts from the Office of Court Administration were leveled across the board to every CASA program in the state to the tune of $800,000 total. It was like 'The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.'"
Already numb after the events that unfolded at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut on Dec. 14, the news of the funding cuts was another blow to Park, who strives to provide the best aid that she can to children.
"At first it was really jarring, but now we just have to figure out what to do. It was a few days before I even knew how to begin to tell the 41 volunteers that give their heart and soul to our children that we serve. They were just shocked when I was finally able to tell them. In a tight-knit community like this, they were concerned because they want to be able to help. The volunteers are just incredible people."
When Park asked her volunteers and board what they felt they should do, she says that the answer was simple.
"CASA and the children it serves are worth fighting for and we are willing to fight until the bitter end," Park said.
Last year, CASA provided assistance to 89 children thanks to 25 unpaid volunteers, while at any given time having another 40 to 60 referrals in a file, waiting for advocacy and a voice. CASA's advocacy can be life changing for these children, resulting in adoptions and assistance.
The cost per child averages out to roughly $1,000.
The budget for CASA has taken hits for the last few years but never one as large as this recent slash, which resulted in a $18,851 loss for the program.
"Our budget is small when you consider the number of families impacted," Park said. "Every year, all non-profits prepare for cuts or for the possibility their fundraising efforts may not prove as profitable as budgeted, but when blind-sided by a cut this large it is devastating to a program."
If one thing is certain, CASA and its volunteers know the meaning of hope after helping to provide it each and every day to the children in foster care.
"We will continue to hold onto that hope because one thing is for certain - we have a community with hearts bigger then the state of Texas, agencies that do amazing jobs and stand hand-in-hand, clubs and organizations always their to lend a hand, and last but not least, our foundations and business that are the pillars of this county," Park said.
For more information about CASA, contact Kathy Park by calling 753-4123 or through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Office of Court Administration can be reached at (212) 661-6787.