Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Yuma County has named Maria Robles as its 2013 volunteer of the year.
CASA volunteers are average residents appointed by judges to advocate for the safety and well-being of children who are victims of parental abuse and neglect.
"Maria is just an outstanding advocate," said Dennis O'Rourke, CASA of Yuma County coordinator. "She is always there for her kids and puts in countless hours. She goes to all lengths for the kids. She is also a mentor for several of our new volunteers. She is just unbelievable."
CASA of Yuma County has also recognized several other CASA volunteers for their efforts in 2013.
Gladys Schalm received the Judges Award for outstanding advocacy presented by Yuma County Presiding Juvenile Court Judge Kathryn Stocking-Tate and Judge Mark Wayne Reeves.
Neil and Marilyn Hohnstein were named Rookies of the Year in recognition for their dedication to the Yuma County CASA Program.
Kimmy Bird-Pruitt received the Roadrunner Award in recognition of traveling 4,804 miles in 2013 to support abused and neglected children.
Stella Hernandez was named Foster Parent of the Year.
Oscar Quintero received the Shining Star Award, presented to a CASA volunteer who does outstanding work with delinquency cases.
Each award recipient was honored during a special banquet held recently at the First Assembly of God. The banquet was made possible through a $1,000 donation from the Arizona Lottery.
"I can’t thank them enough," O'Rourke said of the award recipients. "I don’t know what I would do without them. It is their program and I am there to support them. They take ownership of this program, run it and do everything. They are in the trenches, duking it out, going to court and fighting for these kids to ensure they all, at the end of the day, have a good safe, permanent, loving home. It is amazing to watch them work because they have a hard job and they do it for free. I am in awe of what they do every day."
CASA volunteers gather information, review documents and records, and interview their appointed children and their family members.
The volunteers also provide written reports at court hearings, provide testimony when necessary, and help the child understand the court proceedings.
Additionally, CASA volunteers seek cooperative solutions among individuals and organizations involved in the children's lives, and ensure the children and their family are receiving appropriate services.
Finally, the volunteers bring concerns about the child's health, education and mental health to the attention of the appropriate professionals; monitor case plans and court orders; and update the court on developments with agencies and family members so the court is aware of any changes in the child's situation.
"Volunteering as a CASA is fulfilling and often rewarding because of being able to see children go from withdrawn, insecure and unhappy to watching them blossom into happy, confident individuals over a period of time with many people working on their behalf," said CASA volunteer Ruth Sanchez.
"CASAs are just one part of a team working for the benefit of the children. However, there is a personal and financial cost involved. When a case is assigned to you, it's difficult to not want to spend money to brighten their lives a little, such as for birthday or Christmas gifts, and to get them clothes, toys or school supplies. The reward is the smile on their face."
While fulfilling, "sometimes the work is frustrating because we want fast resolution of issues that keep children in foster care, and the system is slow because of the legal ramifications involved in adjudicating parental rights," Sanchez noted.
"The primary focus for the children is to attempt to reunite them with their parents or other family kin. Sometimes it isn't possible and the system will attempt to sever parental rights to make the children available for adoption and give them a chance for a permanent, stable and loving home life. Thus it can seem like it takes too long to help the children, which can be frustrating."
All CASA volunteers must be at least 21 years old, be willing to complete necessary background checks, provide references, participate in an interview, complete a minimum of 30 hours pre-service training, be available for court appearances, and be willing to commit to the CASA program until their first case is closed.
For more information about the CASA program, or to become a volunteer, go online to http://www.azcourts.gov/casa/Home.aspx