Culinary Teacher becomes a CASA Advocate


Phoenix Pittman, Staff Writer

Culinary Arts Teacher Summer French recently chose to volunteer for CASA, an organization providing Court Appointed Special Advocates for children in need. Her duties include spending time with individual children, learning their cases, and being their voice in court. 

“I decided to volunteer because I have a friend in the Dallas area [who has] been volunteering for 11 years,” French said. “She said it is some of the most rewarding work she is done. I feel it is an extension of what I do as a teacher except I get a say in what happens to them in bad situations and I don’t get that as a teacher.”

CASA volunteers must go through hours of training which includes court observation and guideline overviews then they spend four to twelve hours a month with their assigned child. Furthermore, these special advocates typically commit to their cases years at a time, with most usually commiting more. 

“A lot happens before the court room; I try to get as much information as I can about the child,” French said. “Then in court, I stand for their best interests usually it is advocating for what they want.”

These advocates are the Guardian Ad Litem (Advocate that investigates a single, specific case) and serve for the children’s best interests within court. In cases where the child would wish for something that is against their best interests, such as returning to an abusive parent, the attorney would be forced to advocate for what the child wants, meanwhile the CASA volunteers have the unique ability to know what is best because the CASA advocate investigates, learns, and knows much more than the attorney about the specific child’s case. 

 “I think it will give me a greater appreciation for my own life and how I was raised,” French said. “It probably will give me some good insight in the system I’ve already had some experience on CPS (Child Protective Services) court observations and how the system works and how children’s attorneys work.” 

Last year, CASA of East Texas helped over six hundred children in the area with just a little over 200 volunteers and twelve paid staffers. The volunteers can be anywhere from twenty one years of age to eighty four.

“We spend time with the child getting to know them [and] getting to know their name [and identity],” French said. “Most of it is with who they are in custody with [and] some of it’s getting to know those people. it is not just getting to know the children a lot of it is hours investigating and interviewing other people.”

While the CASA advocate has strict guidelines against interactions between the volunteers family and the assigned child, the effect of volunteering can have a mass impact on the volunteers biological children. 

“I hope that it encourages [my daughter] to understand how important volunteer work [is],” French said.  “She already has a grasp that not everybody has a really great home and a great life. The fact that she knows I’m spending children and being on their side has already had an impact on her.”