The Athens Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) and Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) program has about 40 volunteers who are serving children in the foster care system, but the program is always looking for more.
Athens CASA/GAL is hosting its annual Every Word Heard Tour, a 90-minute guided tour that will offer an educational opportunity about volunteering with the program and advocating for children who have been abused and neglected.
In past years, the event has been called The Voice of The Child Tour, but Jenny Stotts, the executive director of Athens CASA/GAL, decided to change the name this year to fit better with the program’s initiatives and direction it’s heading in.
If You Go:
What: •Every Word Heard Tour
When: •11:30 a.m., Fri.
Where: •Athens County Juvenile Court, 1 S. Court St.
“‘Voice of the child’ has long been a national CASA slogan, but when we say ‘voice of the child,’ it implicitly leads people to believe that we are the voice of the child instead of the voice of the child being actually heard,” Stotts said.
Athens CASA/GAL is trying out a new development called Every Word Heard, which is a more robust training program for the advocates.
“We want to make sure we’re not just only listening to what the child says verbally, but what’s going on in their actual lives,” Stotts said. “To make sure we’re not necessarily speaking for children, but listening to them and helping make sure their best wishes and interests are known.”
The Every Word Heard Tour will take up the entire second floor of the courthouse to accommodate for the variety of exhibits Athens CASA/GAL has planned for the event.
“One of the exhibits will have really beautiful photographs of children who represent the children we serve, and then we’ll have narratives on what brought them to the court and how a CASA volunteer helped them,” Stotts said.
There will also be several features on the people who volunteer with Athens CASA/GAL so attendees can get an idea of who those people are and what they do when they’re not volunteering with the program.
“One of the more interactive parts of the tour is called True CASA Confessions. It’s a panel of current CASA volunteers that will tell the audience anything they want to know, there’s no question off limits,” Stotts said. “Kids don’t just come to the attention of CASA because everything’s wonderful, they need help. Sometimes that can be a little trying emotionally for the volunteers.”
The Every Word Heard Tour has been a popular event Athens CASA/GAL hosts that does a good job getting people interested in becoming volunteers themselves.
“We’ve had a lot of people attend the tour who then went on to become CASA volunteers, or volunteered with us in other ways,” Stotts said. “CASA is complicated, hard to understand, so this is a good way to spread information to more people.”
Sarah Garlington, an assistant professor in Ohio University’s social work department, believes the Every Word Heard Tour will help educate people on issues that are prevalent in the county in which they live.
“I think these exhibits will be extremely beneficial in educating the public about the experiences of children, families and others in the child welfare system,” Garlington said. “I think the exhibits and the education about the issues will be very powerful, because people who attend will be provided with possibilities for change, hope and getting involved.”
Garlington believes Athens has a great resource through Stotts and her team. The work she and her team do to facilitate the support of so many kids involved in the child welfare system is endless, Garlington said.
“I know the Every Word Heard Tour will be valuable both as an educational experience and opportunity for community members to see concrete ways they can be active in supporting children in the child welfare system,” Garlington said.
Marechan Burrows, a junior studying journalism, said people need as much information as possible about what’s going on in Athens, especially university students.
“We get so caught up in our own problems when there’s so much poverty in Athens compared to what the university students have encountered in their lives,” Burrows said. “I think it would be really beneficial to know what’s going on regarding the children of Athens, and this tour sounds like a place to start.”