CASA Advocacy in Action

When considering the full measure of a person, we can sometimes be fortunate enough to find someone who truly inspires us. For Friends of Children, that person is Jo-Anne Vanin.

Ten years ago, Jo-Anne became connected with Friends of Children through her search for community volunteering opportunities. And boy, did we luck out! At that time, she was the Dean of Students at UMass Amherst, and with more than 20,000 students to tend to she still found time to devote to children in the community. Her passion and experience motivated her to become involved with our Franklin/Hampshire Court Appointed Special Advocates program. She went through extensive screening and training to become a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for children who were court involved, due to abuse and neglect at the hands of the people who were supposed to protect them. Since then, she has advocated on behalf of, and been the champion for, nine children

The most valuable quality that Jo-Anne brings to the children she advocates for is her talent for seeing the best in them. She can always recognize in them their promise and their hopes, while expertly identifying their needs. No matter how desperate their circumstance, no matter how troubled their past, her eyes are trained on their future. She is adamant in getting vulnerable children help…not just any help, but the right help; whether that be the right education, the right services, or the right opportunities. Jo-Anne does it all. And she strives, in her warm, intelligent way, to make sure that those charged with caring for these kids are on the right page, too. Make no mistake…Jo-Anne is very clear about who she is assigned to represent and will do this until the job is done.

Just recently, one part of her CASA job was “done.” A young man who suffered unspeakable abuses in his family graduated from high school. He is not without his scars – inside and out – but has gained immeasurably from his team of providers who have become his de facto family. Jo-Anne, along with his social worker, drove nearly 2 hours to cheer him on as he accepted his diploma, and waited there to hand him gifts to celebrate his fine and hard-won accomplishments. She’s the first to tell you that while he is a great success, the job is not “done.” Having been asked by him to stay involved as his advocate and mentor, she will assist him in getting the services he will need as a young adult.

Though you’d think this would keep her busy enough, Jo-Anne also volunteers as an educational advocate for students in state custody. And she serves as a CASA to other children right now, as well. We’ve been incredibly lucky to have her as the Chair of the Friends of Children Board of Directors this past year, attending community events to lend her support to our child advocacy work that is so critically important.

So that’s what I’m talking about. Inspiration. Jo-Anne finds it in the kids she serves. And some of us find it in her.

Every day, we marvel at the dedication of our CASA volunteers who work to improve the life chances of vulnerable children. Folks like Jo-Anne and others (retired teachers, nurses, postal carriers, environmental scientists, journalists) join with Friends of Children’s professional staff in a commitment to speaking the truth about a child’s circumstances, acting to promote their best interests, and championing change because we believe in their best future.

To learn more about ways in which you might join with us, call!