OK for CASA chili lunch is uniting two Frankfort civic organizations to benefit the Court Appointed Special Advocates program.
The Optimist and Kiwanis clubs will host the lunch Friday at the VFW on Second Street from 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m.
The idea grew out of a platform Ronnie Dunn presented when she was president of the International Optimist Clubs.
“Ronnie introduced the idea of Optimist Clubs joining forces with other organizations to help programs in their cities and towns,” husband Wayne Dunn explained.
Wayne Dunn, a Frankfort Optimist, liked the idea of two clubs working together and approached his friend Fred Troutman, who is a member of the Kiwanis Club.
For the past two years, the two clubs, along with support of the VFW on Second Street, have worked together to help the program. CASA works on behalf of children who are forced into court through no fault of their own because of a dangerous situation in the home or a single parent has become ill or incarcerated.
Both Dunn and Troutman know intimately the work of CASA. Troutman has served on the governing board of CASA, overseeing the work of the director, seeing that the bylaws of the organization are upheld and helping to raise funds for the organization.
Although CASA was legislated into law by the General Assembly as an arm of family courts, no money has been budgeted for its operation.
“The task of funding the program has fallen upon the local communities and the board of its CASA program,” Troutman said.
“While CASA receives some funding from the city and county governments of Franklin and Anderson counties, additional funds must be raised to continue to provide this critical service for children,” Director Shirley Elkin said.
Dunn is a former CASA volunteer. That means he advocates on behalf of children who are assigned to him by Franklin County Family Court.
Volunteers are charged with representing abused and neglected children in the court system. They act as the “voices” of the children throughout the court proceedings. Judges are presented an unbiased perspective of what is in the best interests of each child based on information gathered firsthand through research, interviews and observations.
“I am charged with looking at what is in the best interest for that child,” Dunn said. “Should he or she live with one parent or the other or is placement in a home of a relative or temporary foster home a better place for the child at the time?”
The ultimate goal of CASA is a permanent home, and a CASA caseworker stays involved providing reports to the judge until resolution is found.
Former CASA director Rendell Butler is a member of the Optimist Club, and he knows firsthand the work of volunteers.
Before becoming director, Butler signed on to be a volunteer.
“I was assigned a case by then Family Court Judge Reed Rhorer. (Currently Judge Squire “Will” Williams presides over Family Court.) My job was to investigate the best interest of a child of parents where spousal abuse was occurring,” Butler said.
As he interviewed all parties including educators, grandparents, doctors and others involved, Butler made a discovery.
“While the court was under the assumption there was just one child in this family, actually there were six more,” he said.
His first case was an eye-opener.
“That’s when I fully understood the reason for the work assigned to the volunteer, to see the full picture of a family’s dynamic,” Butler said.
CASA volunteer Connie Riddell wrote a “Letter to the Editor,” Sunday, Nov. 4.
“I have been a volunteer for 12 years and continue to be amazed by the number of vulnerable children here in our own community,” she wrote.
“What is most surprising and disheartening is that during the incredibly vulnerable time in a young life, the family court system is simply too overworked to deal with the unique needs and rights of each child. These children deserve to be treated with dignity and respect and the chance to live in a safe, loving and permanent home.”
According to Riddell’s letter, there are currently only enough volunteers to serve 35 percent of the children in the system.
Recent reports show in Franklin and Anderson counties there are 51 cases involving 95 children being served by 31 volunteers. CASA provided services for 151 children last year with 40 percent of those children under age 5.
According to Dunn, one of the many ways the community can help is by attending the OK for CASA Chili Lunch.
“Everyone eats lunch somewhere, so please plan to have your lunch on Nov.9 at the OK for CASA Chili Lunch and help provide services for the children served by CASA Volunteers,” Dunn encouraged.
Lunch is available as dine-in at the VFW, carry-out or drive-thru.
To place a large to-go order or pick up an order from drive-thru, which is located at the back of the VFW, call 502-227-2483 after 10 a.m. Friday.
The cost is $5 for a bowl of chili with a vegetarian option available, cake and drink. As with any fundraiser, donations are appreciated.
Also available will be 20 items to be won through a raffle and a designer/jeweler will offer hand-crafted jewelry.
For more information on the CASA program or volunteer training call Shirley Elkin at 502-875-0702 or email either firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.franklin-andersoncountycasa.org.