“Life's most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said to an audience in Montgomery, Alabama in 1957.

In 1994, Congress passed the King Holiday and Service Act, designating Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a national day of service. Every year on the third Monday in January, Americans honor Dr. King’s legacy, service and leadership by engaging in community activism and volunteering.

If you are looking for a unique and long-term way to give back to your community, consider becoming a CASA volunteer, or Court Appointed Special Advocate, and helping children and families right here in Brown, Comanche, and Mills counties.

“CASA is more than just your everyday volunteer opportunity,” said Michelle Wells, Executive Director of CASA in the Heart of Texas. “Our volunteers commit their time to make a direct, lasting impact in the life of a child in foster care, giving them a better chance at a happy future.”

When a family is in crisis and a child is removed from home, the child is placed in the foster care system, sometimes far away from their friends, loved ones and home community. Though they are in this situation due to no fault of their own, they face a higher risk than their peers of negative outcomes such as homelessness, mental health problems and dropping out of school.

“Due to the trauma they have experienced and being separated from their families, children in foster care are the most vulnerable of the vulnerable,” said Wells. “They need a dedicated advocate to look after them while they are in the system.”

CASA volunteers go through pre-service training and then are appointed by judges to advocate for a child in foster care. They get to know the child individually, and speak with their family of origin, foster parents, teachers, therapist and others, to form a holistic picture of the child’s unique needs and circumstances. Their advocacy helps ensure the child’s best interests are heard in the court, and that they are safe and supported while they are in foster care.

CASA volunteers advocate first and foremost for reunification with the child’s family of origin and help ensure that the child has a network of family members and other adults who will support them even after CASA and CPS involvement ends. When reunification is not safe or possible, they work to place the child with relatives or a loving adoptive family.

“We know that it is best for children when they can live safely at home,” said Wells. “In fact, we hope for a day when CASA is no longer needed because all children are healthily and happily growing up with their families. Until then, we need more community members to step up and advocate, right here, right now.”

Last year 35 CASA volunteers served 99 children in the foster care system in the three county area served by CASA in the Heart of Texas, but more than half of the children in care in Brown county still need a volunteer to advocate for their best interests. “It is the unrelenting goal of CASA in the Heart of Texas to grow to serve all the children that come into the system in our area, stated Joanne McCraw, Recruiter/Trainer.

“Dr. King envisioned a ‘beloved community,’ where all people have the same opportunities to thrive. At CASA in the Heart of Texas, we believe that change starts with children,” said McCraw.

For more information, visit CASAbrownwood.org or call 325-643-2557. The next CASA 101: Information Session is at 6 p.m.Tuesday, Feb. 4 at 901 Avenue B (CCCT bldg.).