Area residents with diverse life skills and educational backgrounds were recently honored at an event hosted by Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) for Children of South Central Missouri.

A total of 45 volunteers served 91 children in Phelps, Texas and Pulaski counties this past year. There were 121 children in foster care in Phelps County and 53 in foster care in Texas County.

“Our judges, attorneys, child welfare workers and parents overwhelmingly report that our volunteers make a difference with the children they serve,” said CASA Executive Director Judith Waters. “Our CASA family is filled with phenomenal people who want to help and care enough to volunteer.”

Awards were presented to Jim Barks, Volunteer of the Year; Ron and Sara Fannin, Extra Mile Award; and Connie Michno, who received the Volunteer’s Choice Award for having an outstanding impact on the kids served by CASA through her years of service through foster care.

Barks was raised on a small cotton farm in Missouri. He earned a degree in civil engineering and served as the District Chief of Water Resources for the United States Geological Survey. Since retirement Barks makes and sells Treenware to benefit the CASA program. Treenware is a collection of hand hewn kitchen utensils which are considered to be works of art, as well as useful tools for culinary uses.

“I just have a soft place in my heart for children who do not have the opportunity to live with their parents in a wholesome and happy environment,” he said.

The Fannins, a husband and wife team, are known for their quiet demeanor and perseverance. Ron is a retired professor and Dean of Engineering at Missouri S&T. Sara is a retired teacher from public schools and parochial schools.

The Fannins have recently accepted their eighth child in the CASA program since being trained as volunteers three years ago.

“We had no expectations coming into this program,” Ron Fannin said. “We just wanted to know that we may have made a positive difference in a child’s life.”

Michno has been instrumental in changing the lives of over 350 children for more than 25 years. She has been a foster parent and adopted 10 children. Michno has been involved in teaching children about reality and responsibility. She has helped kids develop self esteem, become public speakers and learn to complete job applications. She is currently managing a Community Treatment Home through Great Circle – Boys and Girls of Missouri.

Associate Circuit Judge Douglas Gaston, who was unable to attend the event, was later presented the CASA Hope Award, which states,” To give a child hope is to give them the world.”

The CASA program is unique. It is the only program where everyday citizens are appointed by judges to speak up for a child’s safety and well-being. Children assigned to CASA volunteers are victims of abuse and neglect. The volunteers are well trained, with no fewer than 30 hours training prior to being assigned a case. Volunteers are well supported by local CASA program staff with professional backgrounds in the legal and child welfare fields. The training is on-going throughout the program.

“It is a tremendous honor to receive this award,” Gaston said. “CASA plays such an important role in the lives of children in our community. This is an award we all share. It is because of the efforts of the CASA staff, the volunteers, the donors, partners, and board members that make up a whole, wonderful team. The CASA program really does make a difference in the lives of these children. CASA volunteers are the hope, light and truth for them.”

With the support of Judge Gaston, CASA is expanding the program to include more children in Texas County. The CASA office is located in the Phelps County Courthouse. Recently, the Texas County Commissioners arranged for CASA office space in the Texas County Justice Center in Houston.

CASA volunteers spend most of their volunteer time in contact with the child. They generally handle one or two cases at a time so that they can give each child’s case the sustained, personal attention it deserves.

Volunteers participate in such activities as reading, discussing hobbies, remembering birthdays and making children feel special. For more information about the program, contact the CASA office at 573-458-6240 or log onto Organizers aaid volunteers and donations are welcome.

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