CROWN POINT | Every year Lake County children who are wards of the state overcome obstacles to graduate from high school or earn GEDs. The Lake County Juvenile Court, Lake County Court Appointed Special Advocate Program and the Lake County Retired Teachers Association recently hosted a graduation party for 13 youth to celebrate their achievements this year.
"Earning a high school diploma for these children is particularly significant," said Liz Theodoros, volunteer coordinator for the Lake County CASA Program. Due to abuse and/or neglect in their homes, these children have been placed in foster homes, residential treatment facilities, or with relatives.
"Many have endured the pain and disappointment of not having a permanent home or family and have overcome difficult circumstances in their young lives," Theodoros said. "They need to know that their accomplishments have not gone unnoticed and that their efforts will open doors to new adventures and opportunities."
The celebration for the class of 2013 was held at House of Kobe in Merrillville. Each graduate was invited to bring a guest to the luncheon.
Juvenile Court Magistrate Jeffrey Miller addressed the graduates, encouraging them to continue to work hard to achieve their goals and to strive to pursue higher education and training. He presented each with a graduation card and monetary gift.
“We have this event for these graduates so we can bring them together and praise them for their hard work and so they can congratulate each other," Miller said. "We let them know they can count on us for support whenever they may need help as they venture out into the world.”
The Indiana Retired Teachers Association, whose members contribute more than one million volunteer hours every year statewide, chose the Indiana Supreme Court’s Guardian Ad Litem/CASA program as its volunteer project in 2007. Since then, retired educators have been working with at-risk children throughout the juvenile court system.
“Teachers make great CASA volunteers,” said Michael Piraino, CEO of the National CASA Association. “As advocates, teachers bring wisdom and experience gained from their work with children. With teachers, as with CASA volunteers, the kids come first.”
Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASAs, are community volunteers recruited, screened and trained to advocate for and represent the best interest of abused and neglected children in juvenile court. The program dates back to 1977, when a judge in Seattle felt he needed more fact-based information about the needs and wishes of abused and neglected children in his court.
The Lake County CASA Program was founded in 1987. Since that time, more than 1,500 volunteers have been trained and more than 25,000 abused and neglected children have received best interest representation in Lake Superior Court, Juvenile Division.
In 2012, the Lake County CASA Program represented 3,329 abused and neglected children, of which 1,276 were new appointments.
For information about how to become a volunteer child advocate or make a donation, call Theodoros at (219) 660-6978.