The planning and development of the Friends of the Court, Inc./CASA of Shelby County program began in 1993, using National CASA guidelines. The program was incorporated as a nonprofit organization in November 1994 and began assigning volunteers in June of 1995. The program has grown from a one-time donation of $5,000 with only two volunteers up to a $100,000 organization with over 75 volunteers and two post graduate level contract employees with over twenty years experience each who have served the program for 18 and 5 years respectively.
The idea of starting a CASA program began when the state started assigning contract attorneys for all court cases (juvenile and criminal), because indigent attorney fees were so exorbitant. The restructuring resulted in the Juvenile Court of Shelby County having access to only one Guardian Ad Litem. Due to state budget restraints, there would not be another Guardian Ad Litem in the near future. With Shelby County being one of the top ten fastest growing counties in the country, this resulted in the realization that many children would have no one to advocate on their behalf. It also set these children up for further victimization by an oftentimes confusing, frightening court process.
CASA has received funding from the Children’s Trust Fund of Alabama, the Daniel Foundation, National CASA Association and United Way of Central Alabama. What’s most important is the fact that we are our own largest financial contributor due to the annual fundraiser we hold. It is a rarity that a non-profit organization to be their own largest contributor. It speaks to the ability to be self sufficient if government funding cuts occur.
Currently, Shelby County has trained volunteers with 25 active and presently handling court cases with a new training class to be held in the fall. The actual number of children being served is greater however, as the siblings of children being served, not subject to court proceedings, also benefit from the efforts of CASA.
Training sessions are held at least once a year and recruiting efforts are on going.
CASA of Shelby County has received incredible corporate, community and media support and continues to grow into the state’s premier CASA program.
In 2001, CASA of Shelby County’s founder and District Judge Patricia Smith was named the National CASA Judge of the Year. That same year, their two-year $45,100 National CASA Association grant was completed with outstanding success. When audited by the National CASA Association Shelby County CASA passed with “flying colors,” as an “outstanding program.”
Since 2004, Judge Jim Kramer has served as Shelby County’s Juvenile Judge and CASA of Shelby County continues to be a nonprofit, 501-(C)-3 organization funded in part by the Children’s Trust Fund of Alabama, the Daniel Foundation, a Shelby County grant, and we remain our own largest financial contributor.
Public relations efforts have led to an increased awareness of CASA and our mission to assist abused and neglected children one case at a time.
CASA of Shelby County is now stronger than ever. Our website is www.casaofshelbycounty.org and we are using it in hopes of bringing more public awareness of what CASA is and to recruit more people to become CASA volunteers in order to meet the needs of the children we serve.