VAC Volunteers are working hard to inspire and represent the best interests of abused and neglected children in Campbell County
The Visitation & Advocacy Center for the Sixth Judicial District (VAC), formerly known as CASA, has served the community of Gillette for over 20 years. Their newer, longer designation, albeit wordier, is more accurate. Here’s why: VAC, comprised of six full-time employees, four part-time staffers, and 58 volunteer advocates who strive to provide a voice and programs for the protection, care, and welfare of local children in need, offer up so much more than strictly Court Appointed Special Advocate services (which they still do, btw) for abused and neglected kids in Campbell County.
For example, VAC provides services for supervised parenting time and exchanges for domestic relations, custody disputes, and separated parents, as well as for families involved in the Department of Family Services’ child welfare system. They’re also implementing a new program utilizing therapy dogs.
But to even begin to comprehend the magnitude of services, coordination, and impact this one, singular agency (working out of a discrete building tucked behind the post office) is having on the kids, teens, and families of our community, we asked five-year Case Manager Supervisor Becky Terry to bring a recent Advocate of the Month award-winner, Ann Blauert, by the 82717 Life offices to speak about her experience as a part of their advocacy program.
It was a Tuesday afternoon in June, when advocate Ann Blauert sat quietly at the oversized table in the conference room wearing a taffy pink button-down sweater over a modest gray T-shirt, her brown curls fell just below her shoulder. She smiled nervously as she talked about how much it means to be a volunteer child advocate. An office manager at NAPA, she’s more likely accustomed to churning out numbers behind a desk than answering a barrage of questions point-blank from a stranger, probing into her personal life for a story. But she’s all for it, “if it helps the kids.”
Blauert has built a three-year tradition of helping not one but four local children, elementary school-aged siblings, who have suffered some form of trauma and/or abuse in the home. Their names, sex, and ages are not identified nor discussed and no specifics about their circumstance or family dynamics are given. VAC Supervisor Becky Terry explained that these are children in need, and it’s left at that.
Protecting these children is what they do, and they’re good at it.
The conversation returned to Blauert’s advocacy, which began when she attended the Red Wagon Pulling for Kids event in March 2016. The advocates who took the stage that night to speak about their experiences had moved and inspired her. However, she was fresh out of college at the time and, admittedly, couldn’t afford to contribute monetarily.
“Non-profits in our community need feet on the ground to help them,” she said. “I could do that.”
That night, she filled out one of the comment cards provided at the event and left it on the table, where she’d sat watching the men and women who’d unknowingly shaped the next chapter of her life.
“I got a call and applied to be an advocate the next week,” she said.
Blauert was over 21 and passed all the required background screenings. She completed several hours of online and classroom training sessions, was sworn in at the courthouse, and handed her first case. Three years later, she continues to serve those same four children.
In addition to monthly individual and group time, Blauert attends court hearings and participates in multi-disciplinary team meetings, which include the Department of Family Services, the County Attorney, court-appointed Guardian Ad Litem, and Campbell County School District representatives, including each of the kids’ teachers and counselors, the kids’ parents, foster parents, and/or guardians, and their lawyers.
“It takes a half-hour once a month to make a difference in someone’s life,” she said, struggling to hold back her tears. “It’s not as hard as you think. Who else is going to help these kids?”