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SHEPHERDSVILLE - It began innocently enough several years ago.
As a Kosair Shriner clown, local businessman Dan Cline started to notice something. Some of the children he would see at Kosair hospital were some of the same youngsters he would see from Bullitt County who were part of a special program.
Those children were part of the Court Appointed Special Advocates, a program where volunteers help those who are participants in the court system for whatever reason.
Being friends with fellow Shriner Dave Juergens, another long-time Bullitt Countian, the two men talked about how Kosair Charities might be able to spread its mission of helping youngsters in need to the local CASA program.
What turned out to be an informal conversation has turned into a great partnership for an agency that could help so many more youngsters with the needed resources.
Kosair Charities has signed on to become the sponsor of a quarterly breakfast at Bullitt Masonic Lodge 155 in Shepherdsville and the fifth annual A Summer’s Night Out on Aug. 4.
Juergens, whose position as Potentate with the Shriners organization provides a bit more influence in the decision-making processes, said that he was at KidsFest last year when he started to ask some questions about the CASA program. He admitted that he didn’t understand what the program did and how important it was.
In talking with Cline and CASA director Cindy Prestigiacomo, Juergens said he learned about the importance in making sure the children who are in the court system, most of time due to nothing they have done, are protected.
“I wanted to do something to help the kids,” said Juergens. “That is what Kosair is all about.”
The quarterly breakfast was the first suggestion as a way to help. The members of Bullitt Masonic Lodge 155 volunteered quickly to be part of the fund-raising efforts.
Juergens said the Masons and the Shriners see a lot of need for CASA but, due to the confidential nature of the program, the public can’t get a sense of how much those volunteers are needed.
“You can’t help but be touched,” Cline said of anyone who hears a story about how CASA has helped a youngster or the parents.
In addition to the fund-raisers, Kosair Charities also provided a check for $5,000 to CASA through its grant program. Juergens said this was presented for the over 375 Shriners who live in Bullitt County.
“That’s our future,” Juergens said of the children.
Prestigiacomo said the funds would help in the operation of CASA, which receives no state funding.
Thanks to Family Court judge Elise Spainhour, every child in the system is assigned a CASA caseworker. Unfortunately, there are not enough volunteers and not enough funding to make sure every child has a worker.
There are over 500 children in the system but only 176 children are actively paired with a CASA volunteer.
“We could do so much more if the funding and the volunteers were available,” said Prestigiacomo.
Volunteers go through a 30-hour training course. Burnout is a factor in turnover as it is a very emotional program. There is also a need for more males to become volunteers.
“CASA makes a difference,” said Prestigiacomo. “We have to set priorities on those we can help. The need is so great.”
Both Cline and Juergens said it doesn’t take long to understand that the need does exist. And both said there must be more public awareness of the program and who it helps not only the children but also the rest of the family.
They said too many of the youngsters they see in CASA wind up at Kosair Hospital on the weekends.
Anyone wishing to become a volunteer or to make a donation to the program should contact CASA at 543-4554.