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A Child’s Place CASA Marks 20th Anniversary in Brooke, Hancock

Mike Thompson, president of the board of directors of A Child’s Place Court-Appointed Special Advocates, thanked staff, volunteers and supporters of the nonprofit group for their efforts during a celebration of its 20th anniversary Sunday at the Follansbee Community House. Seated to his right are from left, Hannah Irrer and Keara Brown, interns from the Franciscan University of Steubenville; and Rhonda Stubbs, the program’s executive director.

FOLLANSBEE – For 20 years the leaders and volunteers of A Child’s Place Court-Appointed Special Advocates have focused on the well-being of children and keeping families together whenever possible, so perhaps it was fitting that the group’s anniversary celebration brought people together for hot chocolate and board games.

Visitors could partake of the hot beverage in a standard cup or commemorative mug while playing Aggravation, Uno and other games or just chat with Rhonda Stubbs, executive director of the nonpofit program.

Stubbs said Monday was its official anniversary in Brooke and Hancock counties, while March 12 will be its fifth anniversary in Jefferson County.

In that time she and the program’s staff and volunteers have represented the interests of 1,217 children involved in abuse and neglect cases, Stubbs said.

A Child’s Place is one of nearly 1,000 CASA programs throughout the U.S. aimed to lighten the work of government social workers charged with ensuring the safety and well-being of children placed in foster homes or returned to parents ordered by courts to undergo counseling.

Stubbs said the local program currently has 11 volunteers representing 157 children in the three counties, with two more volunteers undergoing training.

Jennifer Reitter, who one of its first three volunteer advocates and is now its volunteer coordinator, one of two staff members under Stubbs, said new volunteers complete an online curriculum and meet for group discussions.

All advocates must undergo a criminal background check and take an oath to keep confidential the cases they handle.

Reitter said her interest in the law and the well-being of children drew her to CASA.

She said CASA advocates “must be open to the possibility of change. A lot of the parents do get better and are able to provide a better life for their children.”

Reitter said through visits to homes and talks with social workers, school officials and others, the advocates work to ensure the children are in a safe place.

“We’re kind of like the eyes of the judge,” said Denise Folden of Follansbee, who also was one of the program’s first three advocates and recently returned to it.

Folden said as an advocate, she can help court officials determine if a child should remain with their parents or in a foster home.

“You’re not going to make the big decisions but you’re going to help the people who do,” she said.

DeeAnn Pulliam said she learned of the program while in law school, then joined the local program four years ago when she moved to Weirton.

She said a friend had experienced abuse in both her home and foster home and she saw an opportunity to prevent that.

Pulliam said state Child Protective Service workers are “overwrought by cases due to this opioid problem. I think we work well as a team with other agencies to protect children.”

Stubbs noted A Child’s Place CASA is supported by federal and state grants, private contributions and fundraisers.

On Sunday the group was selling chances for gift baskets and a quilt made by Verna Brady, Gail Willy, Andy Schiffbauer and Teresa Taylor.

The quilt bears a colorful pinwheel pattern selected because A Child’s Place CASA and others post pinwheels outside many public places during Child Abuse Prevention Month as a reminder of the many children who are victims of abuse and neglect.

Stubbs said chances for the quilt will be available up to April 16, when the group holds an evening vigil in observance of the month at the Weirton Event Center.

For information about A Child’s Place CASA, call 304-737-4444.

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