Lyon County CASA volunteers big on love, short on supply
Standing in a courtroom is daunting for adults, let alone children, so to reassure Lyon County’s most vulnerable children when they go before a judge is a pretty hefty task, Gardnerville resident Stephani Halliday says.
But it can make the difference in helping a child to trust her.
Halliday, a Lyon County Court Appointed Special Advocate, has three individual cases she works with now, and she pays attention to the welfare of each one in her care as she spends time with them.
“With the young ones, it’s just knowing enough about growth and development and what is normal,” she said. “You can see how they engage not only with their parents and other parents and siblings, but you try to wrap your brain around what’s happening in their family to help them vocalize what’s going on. You’re looking at attachments and bonds and reactions.”
Lyon County currently has 27 ongoing cases serving 41 children. There are five active volunteers with one about to retire. With only four and Meyer to take on the load, Meyer said she’s had to explain to the county’s Third Judicial Court CASA can’t receive more cases, and the need is growing.
There are 75 children in foster care, and at least 34 are without representatives and guardians to oversee them. CASA needs more help, Meyer says, and she’s been searching outside of Lyon County’s borders to nearby Carson City, Gardnerville and neighboring areas to seek out potential recruits.
“These kids have been abused and neglected,” she said. “I try to reiterate an interest in volunteering. Volunteers spend eight to 10 hours a month. This isn’t going to be as time-consuming as what people think it is. It is something you can fit into your life. These kids need that help.”
Becoming a volunteer takes training, and the training to become a volunteer can be rigorous. The training is a 30-hour, self-paced course involving a booklet with an additional five to 10 hours of instruction. Advocates learn how the Division of Child and Family Services, the agency governed by the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services that provides policies and support in child welfare matters, operates in the county’s rural areas and about issues specific to Lyon County.
Meyer said by the end of this year, the instruction will move to an online format, which will be useful for Lyon’s geographically distant populations. Still, some face-to-face training will remain essential.
“We do a lot of services and referral counseling services and there are Reno treatment facilities because Reno has a lot more options for parents,” she said, such as domestic violence services and counseling.
For Lyon, though, where its communities are spread out and volunteers are scarce, Meyer said she has to be more selective about how to use her current pool to reach her current caseload to send adults from Yerington to reach children in Dayton, nearly an hour away, or to Fernley, 45 minutes away. CASA reimburses for travel. There are children out of state to tend to as well, Meyer said.
Meyer has been attending the area’s recent events such as Dayton’s Oodles of Noodles to attract more potential recruits and will try the upcoming summer’s farmers’ markets, the Lyon County Fair and Rodeo and other well-known venues.
Working with the children themselves is a challenge with the issues they bring.
Halliday said forming relationships can be delicate depending on the types of trauma the kids have faced.
Halliday originally contacted CASA as a means of bolstering experience for her paraprofessional studies while seeking her master’s degree. She came from Gabbs in Nye County and understands the state’s need for more volunteers in its outlying areas. But Meyer wasn’t CASA’s director when Halliday came on board. She served under Caroline Punches at the time, and she’s seen CASA’s cases grow under Meyer’s leadership.
“They have had a substantial amount of cases this year than in prior years, or at least it seems like there’s a lot of cases,” Halliday said. “I feel, personally from my vantage point, there’s a lot of factors, like the opioid epidemic has caused children to be without their parents. … Still, there are more cases than what the amount of volunteers can do, and it’s so overwhelming that we couldn’t distribute the kids amongst us volunteers. There’s just too many cases.”
Even one volunteer helping one child would lighten the burden, Halliday said.
“It takes one positive adult role model to change a child’s path … and we just need people to show up and care,” Halliday said. “It’s probably the most fulfilling thing I’ve done and experienced.”
The impacts from the cases aren’t without their difficulties on the adults, she said.
“It’s genuinely hard, and you hear some awful things and you have to bleed through some ugly history, and you can be a positive role model for some people who get lost, but it’s pretty powerful.”
Meyer said CASA’s website recently was updated. The organization also participates in AmazonSmile, so anyone making a purchase through Amazon can donate .5 percent of their purchase to a charitable organization of their choice, such as Lyon County CASA.
More information about volunteering and donations can be found by visiting http://www.lyoncountycasa.org.