There’s a building on Columbia Avenue with much of the makings of a traditional Southern home: a sweet front porch, two red rocking chairs, a wooden swing and five busy women. Inside, there’s always a flurry of activity too—after all, these ladies are fighting for a very important cause within the community.
As staff members of Williamson County CASA (WCCASA), a nonprofit that fights for mistreated or abandoned youth, they help mobilize and lead an 80-plus volunteer force to ensure that each child has a solid place to call home. Established in 1993, the organization was created to ensure that its assigned children are placed in safe and permanent homes—and they’ve served more than 1,500 young ones since.
What’s just as impressive as the WCCASA statistics is the lineup behind the organization: leading the charge is Executive Director Marianne Schroer, with more than 30 years of experience as a therapist, and an extensive background in nonprofit work. Other team members include Program Director Audrey Freshwater, Advocate Coordinator Felicity Strunce, Director of Development and Public Relations Danielle McMorran, and Administrative Assistant Sydni Baily.
Much of the WCCASA staff work includes using past experiences and skills to build relationships, both within the court and in the community.
“What sets us up for success is the relationships we have within our court system,” says Freshwater. “We couldn’t do what we do and have the success we have without the system’s faith in us. It’s part of what makes us strong.”
To augment fundraising, the organization hosts two major events in the community each year, one of which is happening this fall: The Second Annual CASA-Twice Daily Playhouse raffle launched this month, offering the public a chance to win a 60-square-foot mini-home worth $20,000, equipped with amenities like electricity and air conditioning.
For $20, the public can place their name in a hat to win the one-of-a-kind building. The winning ticket will be announced at the 31st Annual Pumpkinfest, held on Main Street Oct. 25.
McMorran says the board and staff members hope that the house serves as a symbolic reminder of WCCASA’s mission for the thousands of people that drive by the grounds each day.
“For many of the children we serve, a safe home is considered a luxury, not a given circumstance,” she says. “We hope that this fundraiser works in two ways: the first, to raise awareness of the plight of the children we serve; and the second, to provide money to continue to advocate for youth who otherwise have no voice.”
Much of WCCASA’s work is educating the community on what the nonprofit does. The process begins when a child is introduced into the court system as a result of abuse or neglect in the home. A Williamson County judge assigns a CASA advocate to that child and the advocate then becomes responsible for the welfare of that child as he or she moves through the system.
The advocate manages and documents all aspects of the case — scheduling frequent home visits to establish consistent communication with the child, talking with teachers, physicians and other critical adults in the child’s life, making recommendations to the court on permanent living arrangements and more — to ensure their best interests are being met.
Over the past year, the WCCASA team has seen tremendous growth and heightened awareness. During the 2014 fiscal year, the WCCASA added three new staff members, managed 74 advocates and helped 350 children. The team is currently handling 226 cases.
Schroer reiterates that the organization’s success in the past years can be attributed to its advocates, its board and its community support.
“Our organization has an unheard-of retention rate with its advocates, and their dedication is largely the result of the trust they have earned from the courts. It empowers them,” she says. “Because of their dedication, our board is energized to get behind them and serve as best they can. All parts are working together to help the children.”
To learn more about Williamson County CASA or purchase a 2014 Playhouse ticket, visit www.williamsoncountycasa.org.
“Faces of Franklin” is part of a series on merchants and small business owners in downtown Franklin, Tenn. that runs in the Williamson Herald.