Over the last couple of months, CASA programs across the state have gone virtual, finding ways to amplify advocacy and to respond to the challenges of the COVID-19 quarantine with creativity and extraordinary support for families.
We spoke with Samantha Koepp-Stemplinger, Marketing and Recruitment Manager with CASA of the Coastal Bend, about what remote advocacy looks like on the ground for her program.
“The depths of our volunteers’ capacity to give, especially during a time when they are experiencing their own challenges with the current public health crisis, truly shows that it takes a special person to be a CASA,” said Koepp-Stemplinger. “Instead of stepping back they are stepping up, investing even more of their time to learn how to adapt to staying connected with the youth they serve.”
One 14-year-old boy the program serves is living in a group facility that’s locked down because of the virus. He can’t have visitors, he can’t travel to Corpus Christi to visit his siblings, and he can’t attend school – so he’s having a hard time finding ways to occupy his time.
With support from Foster Angels of South Texas, his CASA volunteer assembled a care package for him, complete with markers, a 3D coloring book for teens, a Discovery Robotics kit, Radian bike lights for the bike he loves to work on, lawn darts and a sky foil kite. The volunteer also made sure to include food, “because he is a teenage boy who loves to snack!”
Another CASA of the Coastal Bend volunteer found out that the two children they’re advocating for were sharing a single iPad with their caregiver and her two other young children. This made online schooling a struggle. Plus, it was lonely for the kids because they couldn’t study together.
The volunteer partnered with Foster Angels and with their help, the program was able to remote deliver two new personal laptops to the family at their home.
“Now they can work together!” the volunteer said. “They were even more astonished to know they could keep them. It was so awesome to be a part of that kind of gift.”
A third volunteer is continuing to show up as a steadfast advocate in the online courtroom. He testified via Zoom during a court trial, and thanks in part to his testimony, the children he serves are moving forward to adoption by their caregivers.
“Our volunteers are amazing on a day-to-day basis without all the restrictions they have now,” Koepp-Stemplinger said. “They’ve just been going above and beyond.”
CASA of the Coastal Bend is also planning to host a Zoom yoga class for youth and volunteers. Foster Angels helped the program purchase yoga mats, journals, bags and other supplies. CASA volunteers will be picking up the supplies from the office and delivering them to kids’ doorsteps so that they can participate, and mailing them to kids who are placed far away.
Koepp-Stemplinger, a licensed yoga teacher, will be hosting and recording the class. Yoga is a healthy coping outlet for youth in foster care, she said, especially now when they’re in isolation.
And that’s not all—the program is in the early stages of partnering with the Garcia Arts and Education Center to host a virtual summer camp!
CASA of the Coastal Bend is just one of the 72 CASA programs across the state that are stepping up, adapting and continuing to provide advocacy in new ways. Whatever isolation the next few months hold, the CASA community is dedicated to helping children and families stay connected through it.