In her retirement, Waterloo resident Susan Martin strives for balance.
She aims to balance contributing to her family, church and community.
One way she does that last thing is by volunteering with Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children of Southwestern Illinois.
“I really felt that I probably had at least 10 hours or so a month that I could contribute to hopefully making some children’s lives better and hopefully being their louder voice in the courtroom,” Martin said.
CASA of Southwestern Illinois was founded in 1988 by Judge Milton Wharton, St. Clair County Courts and the Belleville Area Foster Parents Association.
Its mission is to recruit, train, supervise and support volunteers who advocate for the best interest of abused and neglected children from the judicial systems of St. Clair, Madison and Monroe counties to reduce the physical, emotional, intellectual and social impact of child maltreatment.
The organization began servicing Monroe County in 1997.
Martin learned of CASA last fall from a friend in her yoga class. She then saw information about CASA on Facebook.
Intrigued, Martin called CASA and completed an application to serve as an advocate. After an interview, Martin attended a week-long training program in January and completed courtroom observations.
Training focused on the history of CASA, cultural similarities, the need to be open-minded when visiting children and suspending judgment.
Martin already had some transferable skills because she worked as a professional counselor.
“I think that the skill sets that I have, my ability to interact with children and the professional experiences that I’ve had in the counseling area meld well with CASA,” she explained.
Martin started working her first case shortly before the country began reeling from the coronavirus pandemic.
In that role, Martin works as an independent investigator who researches a child’s life and develops a written, factual report with recommendations on what would be in the child’s best interest.
“I’m assigned to be their eyes, ears and voice and help them attain the best living situation possible,” Martin summarized.
That is made more difficult by the pandemic, as Martin currently cannot meet with the children in person. Instead, she has spoken to them on the phone a few times.
“That’s certainly not the way I’d prefer to establish rapport with them, but I think we’ve had a couple of pretty good conversations,” she said. “I’m sure it will take a little bit longer for them to end up trusting me and believing me with not having met me, so I look forward to the opportunity to interact more personally with them.”
Martin still has the benefit of only working on one case at a time, while social workers are often swamped with children who need their help.
To learn more about CASA, including how to volunteer or donate to help purchase items for children, visit casaofswil.org or call 618-234-4278.
“I would definitely encourage (people) to explore it and see if it’s a good match for them,” Martin said.