LOS LUNAS—“It’s all about the kids” is the motto for the Valencia County branch of CASA Partners 4NMKids.

CASA Partners 4NMKids is the Court Appointed Special Advocate program for Valencia and Sandoval counties. The non-profit organization has been working out of Valencia County for two years and is seeking more volunteers for the program.

The organization has created a new position specific to Valencia County, and is looking for a volunteer recruiter to oversee community relations and coordinate volunteer recruitment activities.

Executive Director Ginny Thomas said the program volunteers work with the abused and neglected children in foster care.

“Our job is to speak in that child’s best interest,” Thomas said. “We report directly to the judge. We’re not CYFD, we’re not government of any kind. We are a totally separate entity.”

When CYFD comes in, the case worker’s main goal is to get the family back together. The CASA volunteer’s main goal is to concentrate on the children and speak in their best interest.

“When a child is young, we are their voice and as they get older, we help them find their voice,” Thomas said. “It’s so important that they can speak up for themselves.”

The CASA volunteer reports to the judge to speak in the child’s best interest, but Thomas said sometime what the child wants is not in their best interest.

“If all Johnny wants is to go home to his mom, but his mom’s not in a good place to be able to take care of him, we have to be able to talk about that,” Thomas said.

The volunteer will acknowledge what the child wants, but ultimately has to decide if it’s the right time and situation to send the child into.

CASA relies on volunteers to assist the children of Valencia County in the program, but the county has three times as many children in the program than in Sandoval County. Thomas said it’s been more difficult to recruit volunteers in Valencia County.

“That’s our big goal right now. In Sandoval, we’re able to cover 100 percent of the children that are in CYFD custody. Here, we can’t because we just don’t have enough volunteers,” Thomas said.

There is about 30 hours of training for volunteer applicants, who also have to pass the background checks, one of them performed by CYFD.

“What we’re really looking for is people who would like to spend some time with kids, get to know them and make a difference in their lives,” Thomas said.

Volunteer coordinator Teresa Romero grew up in Valencia County, and recognizes the importance of giving back to the community.

“It feels good to be able to help the people in our community and to show these kids just because they’re in foster care, doesn’t define who they are as they get older,” Romero said.

CASA also gives back to local children in foster care by donating school supplies collected from a back to school drive, and $100 Target gift cards for back to school shopping.

“Any money that is raised through donations goes directly to projects for the kids,” Thomas said. “No donations ever go to help run the offices, I write grants for that.”

The organization has partnered with the Range Cafe in Los Lunas and at Cottonwood Mall. The cafe has a donation box for the back-to-school drive.

“I’ve seen what CASA can do for a child and what a difference they can make in a child’s life, and that’s what it’s all about,” Thomas said.

To learn more about CASA Partners 4NMKids, visit casapartners4.org or call 505-720-7030.

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