KOKOMO, Ind. — For about 170 Howard County children, a red Ford Fiesta took the place of a sleigh drawn by eight reindeer this holiday season.
Indiana University Kokomo student Christa Myers, together with her co-workers and volunteers from the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), found community sponsors to provide presents for every one of the children they serve. She spent most of December driving her Fiesta all over the county, packing it full of toys, clothing, books, and other items to brighten the holidays.
“My tiny car has been packed to the brim a few times, but there are way worse problems than my car being filled with gifts for our kids,” she said. “For some of them, these are the only gifts they’ll receive this season. We appreciate the people who are spreading holiday cheer to them.”
CASA’s mission is speaking for the best interests of abused and neglected children in the juvenile court system, and Myers knows from personal experience how much the gifts mean to the children. A little girl she works with still carries a baby doll she received last year.
“That doll goes with her everywhere,” Myers said. “It’s touching to see that she enjoys the gifts she received, and is still excited about them a year later.”
The Warsaw, Indiana native started with CASA nearly two years ago as a volunteer, shortly after moving to Kokomo. One of her husband George’s co-workers shared her experiences serving, and sparked her interest.
“I think I had been searching for something like CASA for a long time, and I didn’t know it,” she said. “I felt like I could do something more than mentoring, and I wanted to get involved in my new community.”
She completed her 30 hours of training, then began serving. As a CASA volunteer, Myers is assigned children to represent in the court system. She meets with the children and their parents and/or guardians, talks to their teachers, writes update reports for the court, and attends hearing to make recommendations, with the goal of finding the right permanent solution for each one.
“I’ve enjoyed creating relationships with the children and their families,” she said. “I really like that part of it, and knowing I am truly making a difference. I enjoy knowing when I go into court that Judge [Lynn] Murray has read my report, she’s gone over what I’m saying, and she takes it into consideration when making her decision.
“At the end of the day, I am helping a child to get a permanent solution, whether it is reunification with family, or adoption.”
The volunteer service actually led her to IU Kokomo. Myers previously earned an associate degree in culinary arts, but felt unfulfilled working in that field.
“I wasn’t loving what I was doing anymore,” she said. “I evaluated what was making me happy throughout the month, and CASA was at the top of that list. I thought about what would get me to a place I could work for someplace like CASA, or work for CASA. I decided to return to school to finish my bachelor’s degree.”
She started in elementary education, then decided sociology was a better choice to reach her goals. In March 2017, she was hired as CASA’s capacity building coordinator, to build awareness in the community and bring in more volunteers. She enjoys the opportunity in that job to impact even more children.
In 2018, Myers especially looks forward to seeing children she’s worked with for many months adopted.
“They’ve had a sense of stability for a long time, but to have a piece of paper that says you’re staying there forever, and you’re part of the family, that will be my monumental, heart-warming moment when it happens.”
For more information about the CASA program, and volunteer opportunities, call 765-454-5775, go to howardcountycasa.org or to the Howard County CASA Facebook page.
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.