Wednesday I discovered yet another reason to buy more jewelry.
Jewelers for Children, the jewelry industry's charitable organization, gave the National Court Appointed Special Advocates program $600,000 to support the jewelers' initiative to help abused children.
CASA then asked its affiliates in 951 communities nationwide to explain how they could put the grant to the best use.
On Wednesday, CASA of Lexington was awarded $40,000, and was one of only 14 programs to receive a grant. Surely that warrants adding another ring to my collection as a way of thanking the jewelers.
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Melynda Jamison, executive director of CASA of Lexington, said the money will be used to recruit and train more volunteers and reach more children this year.
"We are now serving 24 percent of the children in Fayette County" who are in the court system, she said. That is a sizeable improvement from the three percent served when she first was appointed to her position two years ago.
"As we are able to advocate more for the children, hopefully we are breaking the cycle," she said.
Currently there are about 900 children in the system who need someone to advocate for their interest. CASA represents 284 of them.
Advocates are appointed to some of the worst cases, and are requested by the judge, a social worker, the foster parent or a CASA representative. All cases are confidential, she said.
"We'd like to be on every case, but we have to keep in mind we cannot serve all the kids," Jamison said.
Unfortunately, new problems are being recognized in already difficult situations. But volunteers are kept abreast of these issues through in-service updates. Some of the in-service topics have focused on human trafficking, sexual trafficking and various cultural differences.
Newspaper headlines about parents selling their children or handing them over for favors indicate an unfortunate trend.
Each volunteer averages about three siblings, which means that 27 new volunteers could increase the number of children served by more than 80.
"We need men," Jamison said. "We have more than we've ever had, but we still need more." Those men, she said are extremely vital for the older youth.
And she needs volunteers who are multilingual, with Spanish as the highest need.
Children with a CASA advocate have a chance of getting out of foster care 71/2 months earlier than children who don't, and they tend to perform better in school.
In fact, 90 percent of the children who have CASA volunteers never re-enter the court system.
If you have time to visit with the children at least once a month and write a report for the courts that includes information about family history and the backgrounds of the parents, then you might qualify to be an advocate. The report includes recommendations about what is best for the child, although the judge has the final say. Those recommendations, Jamison said, could be additional counseling, tutoring and any of a number of available resources.
You must be 21 and complete an application, undergo a background check, consent to 32 hours of training, and agree to stick with it for two years. You then will be sworn in by a judge and have a case assigned to you.
Most of the children CASA Lexington advocates for are in foster care or group homes. Some aren't in Fayette County. And, volunteers can work a regular job during the week and find time over the weekend to visit the children. CASA will work with your schedule.
Most of the current volunteers are white women. Jamison would love to have more diversity to better match volunteers with children. About 53 percent of the children served recently were boys and 24 percent of the children were black. Most of the children were between 6 and 11 years old, with children 5 and younger coming in a close second.
Kentucky is one of eight states that does not fund its CASA program. So receiving $40,000 is a big deal for the local affiliate.
All they want to do with that money is help more children. They can't do that without your help.
Call Jamison at (859) 246-4313 to get the process started.