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Volunteers advocate for at-risk kids

By: Leah Rosasco, Loomis News Correspondent
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Being in foster care can leave a child feeling alone, but a local program gives children a voice and someone to rely on. Child Advocates of Placer County is looking for volunteers for its Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) and A2Y mentoring programs. The organization assigns CASAs to children who have been placed in the foster care system and pairs at-risk youth with mentors through its A2Y mentoring program. ?If these youth have just one reliable person in their lives their chances for success increase greatly,? said Don Kleinfelder, executive director of Child Advocates of Placer County. According to Kleinfelder, CASAs are ordered by the court to investigate child welfare cases on behalf of the judge, whereas A2Y mentors typically work with youth who have not entered the foster care system, but are at risk in some way. ?They may be getting in trouble in juvenile court, having trouble at home or struggling at school and our A2Y mentors work to prevent them from continuing down that path,? Kleinfelder said. Bill Graham, of Loomis, completed his CASA training in October 2011 and currently volunteers with two boys, both 12 years old. Although Graham only spends a couple of hours per week with the youth, he recently learned how valuable that time is to the kids when he took one of the boys fishing for a few hours. ?At one point he turned to me and said ?You know, this is one of the best days I?ve ever had,?? Graham said. ?You realize how much they?re getting out of it and it just makes you feel really good.? Nancy Colwell, of Penryn, has been a CASA for four years and she has worked with several girls who are in the foster care system. According to Colwell, being a CASA volunteer is rewarding because she is able to help the youth navigate an otherwise ?terrifying? system. ?All they know is ?the system? so it?s important to help them learn to have a voice in all of it,? Colwell said. According to Kleinfelder, youth in the foster care system for several years can go through multiple foster care placements and social workers, but the CASA stays with them the whole time. ?The CASA becomes that one consistent, reliable adult in the youths? lives,? Kleinfelder said. Brittany Noel, 20, agrees, and said if it weren?t for her CASA she can?t imagine what her life would be like. Noel, who grew up in Rocklin, said her home life had been rough since her parents divorced when she was two, but things got worse right after she turned 15. According to Noel, she was kicked out of her house because her mom?s fiancé didn?t like her and she wasn?t speaking to her dad. ?I had a boyfriend and I got pregnant and ended up having an abortion, which was not actually something that I wanted, and then I never heard from him again,? Noel said. ?I was only 15.? After going through that series of events in her young life, Noel said she became destructive and eventually tried to commit suicide. After several weeks in the hospital and two weeks in a mental hospital, Noel was placed in the foster care system. While awaiting placement in a foster home Noel said her CASA visited her in the Placer County Receiving Home. ?She was my first visitor through this entire thing,? Noel said. ?Through being in the hospital, the mental hospital, I had no visitors, no family or anything, and she was my first visitor.? Although Noel said she was leery of trusting her CASA initially, she simply didn?t have anyone else to rely on. ?Whether or not I wanted to trust her I did, and it was absolutely one of the best choices of my life,? said Noel. Throughout continued struggles during her teens, including being placed in approximately 20 foster homes in a matter of two and a half years, something Noel said was both due to her behavior and ?mismatched? foster placements, her CASA remained the only consistency in her life for three years. ?She was always there, no matter what,? she said. ?She was pretty much the only source of unconditional love I had ever known.? Noel now works in a medical office and is several credits shy of earning her A.A. in communication and she plans to pursue a Bachelor?s degree. Having mended her relationships with both of her parents, she is now living with her father and his wife and her three-year-old half-brother. ?I got all my craziness out,? Noel said. ?Now, I like to cook and crochet and I have a cat.? Noel said she gives most of the credit for the happiness and success she has found to her CASA. ?She is the greatest blessing I ever received,? Noel said. CASA Training What: 30-hour training to become an advocate for at-risk youth in Placer County When: 6 to 9 p.m., Aug. 13 to 16; 20 to 23; and 27 to 29 Where: Placer County Office of Education Annex, 11700 Enterprise Dr., Auburn Cost: No cost training (some fees associated with required fingerprinting and background check) Information: (530) 887-1006 or www.casaplacer.org