Program for abused kids needs volunteers

Published 9:35 am Friday, July 22, 2011

ISLE OF WIGHT—A child born positive for cocaine and a sexually abused 8-year-old girl thrown out of her home and found walking barefoot are some of what Joyelle Saunders has dealt with.

She’s also worked with a 5-year-old boy who hid in the clothes dryer to get away from his abusive parents and a teenage girl molested by her father, brother and her mother’s boyfriend.

“These children will grow up to be adults and will still have the same problems,” said Saunders, executive director of Voices for Kids CASA Program of Southeast Virginia. The non-profit works with volunteers to serve as advocates for children who have been abused, neglected or are suffering from other issues for which they end up in the court system. The agency, which serves Isle of Wight and Southampton counties and the City of Franklin with plans to include Suffolk, needs volunteers.

An open house will be held 6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 25, at the Isle of Wight Ruritan building. Training will begin Tuesday, Sept. 13, at the agency’s office at the Isle of Wight Courthouse. Three-hour sessions are scheduled for Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday evenings. Dinner is included. New volunteers undergo 35 hours of training.

The Kids CASA program has roughly 20 volunteers and served 41 children during the recent fiscal year. Saunders believes more than 80 could be served with more volunteers.

“We are definitely in need of more,” she said. “Our caseload is growing. We are making a plea to the community now for those who may be interested in being an advocate.”

A volunteer for three years, Michele Jones of Smithfield got involved after serving on the 5th District Juvenile District Committee. The committee gives juvenile first-time offenders of minor crimes — like fighting in school, stealing from a store or graffiti — a second chance by doing community service or apologizing.

The Kids CASA Program also involves youth in the court system.

“I really thought the program was something I could get my heart into and went full force,” said Jones, a home-building contractor for 30 years.

She joined its board of directors and now serves as president.

The 54-year-old has worked on up to three cases at a time.

“When you get a case, it doesn’t end quickly,” she said. “I had a case that was almost two years (old). That’s the way the court system works.”

Volunteers are assigned cases and get court orders.

“Every case is different,” Jones said. “You can get a baby that has been born cocaine addicted.”

She said you could go to doctor appointments and try to get parents into a rehabilitation program.

“When you have a child in the school system, you may go to counselors or an activity the children may love,” Jones said. “Our goal is to return (the child) to the family.”

“Does it work out?” she continued. “No, it doesn’t (always), but we push and do everything.”

A non-profit, Kids CASA is funded by grants from the localities it serves and contributions.

If interested in volunteering, call Saunders at 357-2170. For more information, go to