Editor's note: This is the sixth in a series of stories featuring the 21 agencies that will receive funding from the Finney County United Way in 2013.
BY DEREK THOMPSON
For Deb Travers, volunteering with Spirit of the Plains, CASA, has helped her in her day job.
Travers, who volunteers with the local advocacy agency with her husband, Glen, is a school counselor with USD 457. What she learns as a volunteer with the agency has strengthened her understanding as a counselor at Edith Scheuerman and Georgia Matthews elementary schools.
"I know as a school counselor, it's helped me a lot. If a child goes into foster care, I kind of have a better feel for the system and what's going to happen. ... I know how the system works a little better now. I know it's helped me a lot with my job," said Deb Travers, a CASA volunteer since 2006.
For her husband, he enjoys the added support of being a Court Appointed Special Advocate.
"Sometimes, it's nice to have somebody to bounce ideas off of or questions," said Glen Travers, owner of Scale Tronics and a CASA volunteer since 2009.
CASA trains and certifies volunteers to work with children going through abuse and neglect cases throughout the country.
For many children, their CASA is their only source of stability.
"Social workers can change a lot, but your CASA stays the same. I've seen that many, many times in court, where I'm the only one who knows who the kids are," Deb Travers said.
The local CASA office, 310 E. Walnut St., Suite 208, receives a portion of its funding from the Finney County United Way. This year, CASA requested $35,000 from the United Way, the same figure it received in 2012, according to Spirit of the Plains, CASA, Executive Director Susan Escareno.
The funds are planned for operating funds, salaries, training information, copying, postage, Internet and "just about everything we do," Escareno said.
The state CASA agency received no money from the national CASA organization this year, a first for them, Escareno said. So far, that funding shortfall has not trickled down to the local agency, which serves the 25th Judicial District and its six counties: Finney, Greeley, Kearny, Hamilton, Scott and Wichita counties.
Funding for the local agency comes from a variety of organizations, including the United Way, the Finnup Foundation, the Mary Jo Williams Trust, the Ruth Gordanier Trust, as well as through other fundraisers.
The United Way provides between 18 and 20 percent of Spirit of the Plains, CASA's funding, Escareno said. Without that contribution, the three-and-a-half employee office would be reduced by a staff member, the director said, adding that overall operations would suffer without the United Way's help.
Last year, the local organization served 213 children, the highest number of children served in the chapter's existence. With that record comes an increased need for volunteers, whether to serve as certified CASAs or to help serve in other roles.
Deb Travers said there are several rewards for volunteering with the agency, particularly seeing the progression of a neglected child into an accepted child. Seeing that most of the children she works with get to a better place is her reward.
"For instance, a couple little girls that were neglected and now they are adopted, just to see where they came from and where they are now — it's really neat to see," Deb Travers said, adding that she remains in contact with children who have aged out of the system once they graduate high school.
The local United Way's annual campaign goal is $550,000 for 2013, the same as it has been for the last few years.
Additionally, the 21 partner agencies for the 2013 campaign are also the same as this year.
They include: Miles of Smiles; Russell Child Development Center; Finney County RSVP; Kansas Children's Service League; Catholic Social Service; Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Program; Smart Start; Playground Program; Family Crisis Services; Spirit of the Plains, CASA; The Salvation Army; Meals on Wheels; Habitat for Humanity; Garden City Family YMCA; Garden City Chapter of the Red Cross; Santa Fe Trail Council of the Boy Scouts of America; Community Day Care Center; United Methodist Mexican-American Ministries; United Cerebral Palsy of Kansas; Big Brothers Big Sisters of Finney and Kearny Counties; and Girl Scouts of Kansas Heartland.