This non-profit CASA volunteer program is new to Lincoln, Pulaski and Rockcastle County but is not a new support program. The program was started in 1977 by Seattle, WA Judge David Soukup to ease the work load of those working in the court system.
"The Judge saw where the case loads were so heavy for the cabinet workers and all the agencies that were involved in the courts," Smith said. "Looking for a way to ease those case loads, he started the CASA program."
Lincoln originally attempted to develop the CASA Program twice before. The program was first initiated in 2000 but did not get off the ground and in 2004, the money wasn't there.
"We tried it around 2000 but then I think the director resigned and moved on," Smith said. "After that, there wasn't any activity. Then we applied for the grant last year and didn't get it."
Currently, according to 2005 Child Service Statistics, there are 430 children in the 28th Judicial Circuit Court system not being served, but in need.
"The case loads for all the cabinet workers here is just so heavy," Smith said. "With 430 cases before the courts the numbers start to become unmanageable. That's where the volunteers will help. If we can get the volunteers trained, we can give a child that extra voice in the court for all the decisions being made."
Smith and the rest of the 14-member volunteer 28th Judicial Circuit CASA Board of Directors realize that, before they can train volunteers, they have to first recruit them.
"We've been speaking or will speak at various organizations, like the Kiwanis, retired teachers and Rotary. So we're not just sitting back hoping the volunteers will come to us," Smith said. "We will be going out seeking volunteers for the program."
The Board also realizes that being a CASA volunteer requires commitment. The training process takes approximately 30-40 hours and, once trained, volunteersduties include reviewing individual cases, reporting findings to the court, insuring to represent the child's best interest and monitoring each case following a court hearing or decision as designated by the court.
"These people, volunteers, are going to be making a big commitment because that's what it takes," Smith said. "Initially, they will be screened and background checks will be done because we have to make sure the volunteers are okay working with that child because they are going to be spending a lot of time with that child."
"Like the cabinet, the volunteers will be very effective because they will have to make recommendations and reports before the judge in the interest of the child," he said.
One of the first "volunteers" to jump on and help the local CASA program was Karen Hatter, Lincoln County Schools assistant superintendent, who volunteered to act as the executive director of the local CASA program until an executive director can be hired.
"The reason I'm so excited about this program is because it will give people in our community a chance to have an an impact in the lives of our youth and children," said Hatter. "The people that actually deliver the services will be volunteers."
"I think this is a really wonderful program," she said. "This is a chance for influence and we need to make sure that we respond."
The $40,000 grant will provide the major support for the local CASA and a continuation grant is available in the second year - after that the CASA program has to be self-sufficient.
And that's where another group of "volunteers" have stepped in to help.
Thirty different students from Lincoln County, Danville, Boyle County, Garrard County and Kentucky School for the Deaf, under the leadership of instructor Michael Oakley at the Garrard County Vocational School, helped construct a playhouse for a CASA fundraiser.
"They all got their hands in it," said Oakley. "There were no plans on paper when Sonja Baker, woodworking instructor at Lincoln, was first approached. But we made up the plans and built it all, right down to the drywall."
The playhouse, which is constructed of redwood, will be raffled off to help raise monies for CASA.
"We will have to sustain the program ourselves eventually so weÃll always be doing various fundraisers, seeking private donations and other grants to keep the program going," Smith said.
After all, keeping the CASA program running is for the good of the children and their families.
"Our goal is to reunite the family - getting everybody back together as a family unit and having these volunteers in the courtroom - giving that child a voice and looking out for their best interest can help the process along," Smith said.
Hatter sees the CASA volunteer program as the ideal way to serve the area's youth.
"We have volunteers in the school system right now but this is a completely, totally new venue for people to serve with children that are obviously going to be in need because theyÃre in the court system," said Hatter. "So what a way to serve."