We are pleased to announce that the Board of Directors has appointed a new Executive Director for Children First, our very own Susie Weller. Susie has been with the agency for the past 8 years, most recently acting as the Program Director for the Athens-Oconee CASA Program. During her time as Program Director, the CASA program grew exponentially both in volunteer advocates and in awareness throughout the community. Due in large part to her hard work, our CASA Program has garnered statewide recognition as a model, innovative program. We are so excited to see the passion, dedication, and vision that Susie will bring to her new position at the head of Children First! Susie will take over the role starting February 15th.
When people hear the words “holiday season,” they typically picture festive parties, twinkling lights, and bountiful meals shared with friends and family members. To kids in foster care, the holidays might not bring such happy images. The holidays are a time when the family is celebrated. Kids in foster care are in their current foster situation because they have temporarily or permanently lost their families, which can bring feelings of frustration, confusion, and sadness to the surface. Foster kids that are separated from their families struggle with what to think during the holiday season. While foster kids are enjoying great meals and good times with their new families, they are often wondering if their biological family has food to eat or a place to stay during the holiday.
As a foster parent, there are a few things you can do to calm your foster child’s anxiety during the holiday season. First, you can start off by asking them what they would like to do during the holidays, instead of imposing your own traditions on them. You can allow them to start a new tradition for your family that can be carried on throughout the years to come. This will help them feel more at home and more like an integral part of the family during this season. If it is a tradition they used to do with their biological family, it will help them feel even more at home.
Even if you are not a foster parent in Athens, there are other ways you can help foster kids through the holiday season. The Department of Family and Children Services here in Athens runs a program each year called Angel Tree. This is where families can come in and get a shopping list for a family that lists the ages of the kids and what they like. The family can then purchase gifts for the kids who otherwise would not receive anything for Christmas. For more information on how you can help out with this, email Carol Looney at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For the last 26 years, CASA has been the national philanthropy of the Kappa Alpha Theta national sorority. To date, Theta has donated millions of dollars and countless service hours to CASA. Every year, each local chapter raises money for CASA through their own philanthropy events held at their sorority house.
University of Georgia's Theta chapter is no different. They hold philanthropy events twice a year to benefit CASA. Gracie Hennelly, a senior at UGA, has been UGA's Theta philanthropy chair since last semester. She already planned a successful CASA Carnival event this past spring which raised $11,547.00 for the Athens CASA organization. This year, she is looking forward to CASA Boots and BBQ held on the sorority's front lawn on October 21st. Gracie says that all members of the community are invited to come. Theta will have a live band playing on the front patio and lots of little activities throughout the lawn. "We’ve had raffles in the past with prizes from classes at Pure Barre, shirts, and gift cards to Onward Reserve," says Gracie. "All of our members and their friends are in attendance and some CASA volunteers and employees come as well!" She says her favorite part about being the philanthropy chair is "seeing all of our hard work pay off when we deliver the final check!"
Each year, the relationship between Theta and CASA grows stronger, especially in the Athens community. "As the number of Theta chapters grow, CASA will benefit from more chapters’ fundraising efforts," says Gracie. "At UGA, our relationship has developed a lot over time. In the last year, we’ve been able to host the CASA Appreciation event at our house when all of the CASAs and their families were shown appreciation and thanks for the giving of their time and advocacy for neglected kids." Being a CASA takes a lot of time and dedication, and Theta takes the time to celebrate the efforts of the hardworking CASAs.
UGA Theta's CASA event will take place this year at the Theta house on 338 S. Milledge from 5-7 on October 21st. All are encouraged to come! $5 dollars at the door or from any Theta will get you admitted as well as a meal from Saucehouse BBQ.
With the CASA Volunteer orientation just around the corner, Children First thought we would share some insight on what it means to be a CASA. But first off, we must address what a CASA does. CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates. These people who volunteer to be a CASA will be the voice for children stuck in the legal system who have been abused and neglected. They look out for their best interests by gathering information about the child’s family history, provide recommendations to the court of what would be best for the child, and help the child understand exactly what is going on in this confusing time. They typically spend 15 hours a month on their particular case after completing 30 hours of pre-service training. The typical case lasts about a year and half. In order to volunteer, no legal training is required. The only thing needed is a desire to help these children.
What most CASA volunteers have been surprised to find is that being a CASA is not about what they can do for the child, but what the child ultimately does to them. Many CASA volunteers describe their experience as life changing for both the child and themselves. The volunteers get to be a voice for these children and make such a positive impact in their lives. As a CASA, you provide crucial support to a child who would otherwise be lost. CASAs give children the hope they so desperately deserve.
If you are interested in applying to become a CASA, please attend one of two orientation sessions on September 10th at either 10 AM or 6 PM at the Children First office, 693 N. Pope Street Athens, GA 30601.
To complete an application or find out more, visit www.athensoconeecasa.org
Click the link below to watch a video for more information on being a CASA.
Children First is now more visible in the community thanks to our brand new sign! Thanks to the hard work of board member Mary Kay Mitchell-Hodler, the prominent sign in our front yard will not only make Children First easier to find but also raise awareness about our mission and services.
As those of you that have tried to find Children First for the first time, our building can be difficult to find. It's location can also be difficult to describe. The new sign will help our clients locate the services they need and help other stakeholders participate in events or meetings. We are looking forward to adding flowers and landscaping around the sign to make the Children First Pope Street Cottage and even more inviting place for children, families, and the community.
Thank you also to The Sign Brothers for the installation!
Congratulations to our newest Court Appointed Special Advocates to be sworn in as officers of the court. These volunteers participated in 40 hours of extensive training and are now advocating for the best interests of abused and neglected children in our community.
The new year is bringing change to our Board of Directors, saying farewell to our Board Chair Joyce Waller, and saying hello to new leadership and several new Board Members.
We have recently added several new board members including Bonnie Dunn, Kim Griffeth, and Jeff Miller. To read more about our Board of Directors, visit http://www.childrenfirst-inc.org/board-of-directors.html.
ARCH Groundbreaking Ceremony : Tuesday, December 16 : 3:00 PM : 250 North Ave, Athens
The Athens Resource Center for the Homeless, affectionately known as ARCH, will soon begin construction! For years, ARCH has been planning their campus and envisioning a new way to serve the community. And the hours of work and planning are ready to come to life! ARCH is ready to start construction in the former Navy Supply Corps School. Athens-Clarke consistently ranks among the poorest counties in Georgia, including a high percentage of citizens living under the poverty line. Operations like this bring hope for stability and growth for everyone in our community!
With their partners (Athens Area Homeless Shelter, Advantage Behavioral Health Systems, Athens Nurses Clinic, Lifespan Montessori, and AIDS Athens), ARCH will be prepared to provide service in a new way. The vision is to have 24 apartments for homeless families. The campus will also include a childcare center that will serve low-income and homeless families.
Through local partnerships, ARCH will be able to offer medical and dental care, mental health and substance abuse counseling, a place to shower and launder clothing, and a safe location to train for employment. Being without a home is usually symptom of a larger problem in the community. The goal is restore the community one step at a time.
The mission is to provide these men and women a place to find their own economic and personal stability. This will come to fruition in three ways: Access, Empowerment, and Compassion. First, access to these facilities will be provided and begin to return stability into their life. Then, they will be empowered to reach their goals. Through this whole process, they will be treated with compassion and care deserved by every member of this community.
The groundbreaking for ARCH will be on Tuesday, December 16. The invitation to this historic event is expanded to everyone in the community. Come join the ARCH partners at 3:00 PM at 250 North Ave, Athens, the former Navy Supply Corps school, to celebrate and commemorate this historic day!
Orientation: Thursday, October 2nd : 6:00 PM : 693 N Pope St, Athens, 30601
Volunteer Fair: Tuesday, September 23rd : 12:00 - 5:00 PM : Tate Student Center : Baxter Street, Athens, 30602
Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Athens-Oconee County is looking to train new volunteers to help the abused and neglected children in our immediate community. CASA volunteers are in the courts fighting for a better future for children in the foster care system.
CASA was founded in 1977 by Judge Soukup from Seattle, Washington. Judge Soukup did not feel comfortable making a drastic decision about a child’s future without clear knowledge about the child’s situation. He conceived the idea of adult volunteers speaking on behalf of the child after going into homes and learning where a child would best grow and develop.
Being a CASA is hard, rewarding work. After completing 40 hours in the classroom, CASA volunteers are assigned to a child’s case. Volunteers are asked to see the case from beginning to end, a process that may take up to a year or more. CASAs also need to be present in the courts, with advanced notice, to present their research and advice. CASA volunteers can be expected to spend 10 hours a month on a child's case.
If this sounds like something you would be interested, come talk to us. We’ll be hosting a non-commitment orientation on Thursday, October 2nd at 6:00 PM. Come to the Children First Cottage (693 N Pope St, Athens) and talk with the staff and current CASAs about what they are doing and how you can be involved. Everyone is welcomed and invited come learn about Court Appointed Special Advocates and how to serve in the community.
Unable to make it to the orientation? CASA will also be recruiting and open for questions at the HandsOn Northeast Georgia Volunteer Fair on Tuesday, September 23rd. The fair will be held at the University of Georgia’s Tate Student Center Grand Ballroom from 12 - 5PM. Free parking will be provided at the Tate Student Center Deck.