Gifts support safety nets for Westmoreland children and families
Bob and Kaylene Musser didn’t have to think long about where they’d like to see money go when grant funding became available from the Wireless Zone Foundation.
The Harrison City couple who own eight Wireless Zone franchises immediately nominated the Welcome Home Shelter and Westmoreland County’s CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) to receive awards from the Foundation.
They delivered much appreciated grants on Thursday — $5,500 to the emergency homeless shelter in Latrobe that serves about 250 single women and families a year and $4,600 to CASA’s office at the Westmoreland County Courthouse.
“My wife has been supporting the Welcome Home Shelter for some time. And we’ve been coming to the CASA gala for years and listening to their stories. We know there’s a real need for the work the CASAs do,” Bob Musser said.
Westmoreland Common Pleas Court Judge Christopher Feliciani was instrumental in launching the CASA program in Westmoreland County where 200 volunteers now visit with and advocate for children referred to the courts for abuse or neglect.
“We’re thrilled with the support we get from the community. The whole community has come together to help with this,” Feliciani said, as the Mussers delivered the Wireless Zone Foundation’s gift over to the group.
Feliciani said he became aware of the need for that kind of support shortly after he took the bench in family court more than a decade ago and had to preside over a horrific abuse case.
“A child might get a caseworker, but that caseworker might have 30 children. The CASAs are a safety net. They visit each child face to face once a month and they are a constant with that child until the child is either reunited with the parents or adopted,” he said.
CASA volunteers, who undergo rigorous training and background checks before being sworn in by the court, agree to follow a child in foster care for the duration of that child’s time under court supervision.
The commitment can last for years. On average each child in Westmoreland County is followed by a CASA for 16 months. In one case, however, the relationship has spanned six and a half years
Mandy Zalich, executive director for Westmoreland CASA said on average volunteers spend about 10 hours a month following a child between home visits, preparing reports and reviewing reports prepared by others.
Westmoreland CASA is an affiliate of the national organization, is celebrating its 11 th anniversary of matching volunteers with abused and neglected children who have been referred to the courts.
Carol Palcic, CASA Westmoreland development director, said the agency hopes to expand its services to 330 children later this year when it brings on an additional supervisor to oversee more volunteers.
The ultimate goal, Feliciani said, is to provide every abused or neglected child under the court’s jurisdiction with his or her own CASA.
The Westmoreland County program is one of nearly 1,000 local CASA affiliates that grew out of a program launched by a family court judge in Washington state in 1977.
Deb Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Deb at 724-850-1209, [email protected] or via Twitter @deberdley_trib.