CASA of Chautauqua would like to share with you a story and offer you warm wishes for a happy and peaceful holiday. But, most of all, CASA would like to give thanks to all our amazing volunteers, funders and supporters who help us make stories like this happen.
The holiday season is a time to reflect as individuals and families on all of the blessings that have been bestowed on us. It is also a time to pause and look outward to those people who are less fortunate.
CASA, Court Appointed Special Advocate program, provides advocacy to children who are removed from their home through no fault of their own. CASA volunteers are appointed by judges to watch over and advocate for abused and neglected children - to make sure they don't get lost in the overburdened legal and social service system or languish care. Volunteers stay with each case until it is closed and the child is placed in a safe, permanent home. For many abused children, their CASA volunteer will be the one constant adult presence in their lives.
During this season of giving, while you are reflecting on the many blessings that have been bestowed on you and your family, consider those children who are less fortunate. Consider donating to CASA or becoming a CASA volunteer. To learn more about CASA of Chautauqua, please contact 753-4123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org/.
A CASA STORY
It was a winter day in New Hampshire when a neighbor spotted 2-year old Melissa out in her front yard wearing little more than a diaper. The sighting prompted a call to Child Welfare Services and soon an investigation into the lives of Melissa and her two brothers: Connor, age 5, and Albert, 3.
The siblings were removed from their home and, soon after, CASA volunteer Steve Gendall was appointed to their case. He and others worked intensively with the children's mother, trying to help her develop the skills necessary to be a good mother to her children, while seeking alternatives for the children should their efforts fail.
Enter Kathy and Alan Bunker.
Kathy and Alan were strongly considering adopting two children through a foster-to-adopt program. They decided that providing respite foster care would be a wise way to test the waters of parenthood. They began providing short-term care for Connor, who was struggling in the children's first foster home. He thrived in their care. Before long, the Bunkers were providing periodic care for all three of the siblings, taking them into their home for weekends or longer.
With Gendall's help, the Bunkers began to imagine that the situation could be more than temporary.
"Steve knew the children-he had seen them with their mom and in the other foster home. He helped us understand their challenges-and see their strengths," said Kathy. "Very importantly, he provided the perspective we needed when things were not going well. We were not messing this up. These kids had been through a lot; it was just going to take time."
While the nascent Bunker family developed, Gendall continued to visit with the children to ensure that they were getting the services they needed-including counseling, tutoring and medical attention.
After nearly one year, it became apparent to everyone that the children's mother was not going to succeed in regaining custody of her children. As the case progressed from reunification with the mother to relinquishment of her parental rights, the Bunkers began to consider adopting all three children.
"After lots of due diligence, prayer, discussion and some tears, we made the decision to adopt Connor, Albert and Melissa. We felt strongly that they had to remain together. Having each other had been the one consistent thing in their lives," Kathy and Alan said.
Committing to adoption was a critical step for the Bunkers, but not the last in the process. Gendall continued to work with the children, other family members and the court for nearly two years before the adoption was finalized in November.
When asked what the best present will be this Christmas, Kathy and Alan agree that they are not looking forward to anything extravagant.
"The best gifts this holiday season are the simple ones. It's when Melissa calls me 'Mommy.' It's watching them fall asleep during a bedtime story. It's laughing at a little family joke that nobody else would understand. It's the little things that make us realize we have become a family."
Thank you to CASA of New Hampshire and the Bunker family for sharing this story.