The executive director of the local CASA program says she hopes being appointed to the National CASA Council for Rural Communities will give her colleagues at the national level an idea of the struggles Del Norte faces when trying to help at-risk youth.

Christine Slette was accepted for one of six positions on the National CASA Council for Rural Communities. Applicants came from throughout the nation, according to an email from Slette. She said the National CASA Council for Rural Communities will help the National CASA program strengthen the support and services it provides for programs in small communities.

“What it really does is it helps to bring a voice for the smaller programs in these isolated communities where we struggle,” Slette said Friday.

Standing for Court Appointed Special Advocates, CASA volunteers help in the foster care system navigate their way through the court system. There are roughly 50 programs in California and 1,000 programs nationally, Slette said, serving small rural communities and major cities.

CASA programs in cities like Los Angeles and San Diego serve more children but have access to more trainings, technology, fundraising and resources, Slette said.

Meanwhile, Slette said, her program gets by largely on community donations, grants, less than three paid staff members and volunteers. There is no dedicated funding to support CASA programs, so in addition to trying to recruit enough volunteers to keep up with the case load, the local program has to spend much of its time fundraising, she said.

Slette said it costs about $170,000 a year to operate CASA of Del Norte.

“In 2016 we did 13 fundraisers in one year and in addition to that we’re doing grant writing and we’re doing all of these other things we really shouldn’t have to focus on,” she said.

Before CASA of Del Norte lost a Community Development Block Grant in 2014 its volunteers were serving 50 percent of the children under the jurisdiction of the court, Slette said. After it lost that grant funding it served less than 17 percent of the children because it didn’t have the money to recruit volunteers.

Regaining its CDBG dollars in 2016 and 2017 allowed CASA to slowly build up its volunteer base, Slette said. CASA is currently waiting on another CDBG grant, which would fund the program for another two years, she said.

CASA of Del Norte, and most other programs in California, also receive funding from the Judicial Council of California, Slette said. Del Norte typically receives $26,000 from the judicial council, she said.

Last year CASA volunteers worked with 38 children with a few cases actually closing, Slette said. CASA volunteers are currently serving only 17 children, she said. There are about 80 cases under the jurisdiction of the court in Del Norte County, Slette said.

“There’s been thousands of hours dedicated back into our community by volunteer advocates serving on these cases,” she said. “But it actually takes paid labor and office space and computer systems and we have to get audited, we have to have a bookkeeper, the staff is required to attend certain trainings. We have to know what the child welfare laws are in regards to children so we can train our volunteer base. But fortunately the team we have is just really dedicated to the cause of CASA. They just love the work they’re doing.”

Slette said that in addition to her role as executive director for CASA of Del Norte, she is an advocate herself, serving a case with four children currently. CASA’s case supervisor, Pam Wilder, is also working on a case, as is board member Jan Moorehouse, Slette said.

Roger Bodenstab, another local CASA board member, will go through CASA training in April to become an advocate, Slette said. She said she hopes to get at least 10 volunteers in one training session.

National CASA ensures that local programs are functioning within compliance of national standards and that they are healthy, Slette said. The national program also creates marketing campaigns and helps brand the program, but they don’t offer funding for local advertisement, staff or training, Slette said.

But despite the struggles, Slette said serving on the National CASA Council for Rural Communities will also give her a chance to share how supportive the local community is. She noted that being part of a steering committee for the local Non Profit Alliance has also allowed her to work with other local organizations like the Family Resource Center.

“Without support from the community we wouldn’t have been able to keep our doors open two years ago when we didn’t get CDBG funding. It was because the community stepped up, came in and handed us the money that kept our doors open,” she said. “In Del Norte County we’re blessed we have community support.”

For more information about CASA of Del Norte, visit www.casadn.org.

Reach Jessica Cejnar at jcejnar@triplicate.com .

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