After giving birth to her son in February 2017, Independence-based family law attorney Shannon Gordon took comfort in the fact that baby John had everything he needed. However, this gratitude and relief prompted her to turn to the larger community – one where she realized “literally thousands of children in the Jackson County area are without these opportunities.”
Drawing on her seven years of experience in domestic law, she began serving as a volunteer attorney for Jackson County CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children). The organization supports children suffering from neglect or abuse who fall under the court’s protection.
“These aren’t things that can be swept under the rug,” Gordon said. “A lot of people might not understand the extent of the problem.”
“But if you talk to commissioners and judges involved on a daily basis, you realize it’s something that’s not going away. A lot of people sort of assume, ‘Well, it’s not happening in my neighborhood, so it must not be a problem.’ It continues to be a problem.”
According to Jackson County CASA CEO Angie Blumel, the organization helps more than 1,000 abused and neglected children each year, while also managing a constant waiting list. This summer, the organization’s need for volunteers climbed sharply, following a sudden increase of abused and neglected children in the court system.
Since becoming a volunteer, Gordon says she’s been inspired to strengthen her commitment to CASA and to finding safe and permanent housing for these children in need. Her law firm stood out as the highest fundraiser for the nonprofit’s Superhero 5K, after Gordon motivated two other employees, Samantha Totta and Jan Ginavan, to join the cause.
“I learned from speakers and testimonies about what CASA does, and I was enthralled,” Ginavan, a former teacher, recalled. “I love watching the children grow in every way, whether it be with testing or with social interaction.”
Often times, volunteers like Gordon and Ginavan represent the only constant in these children’s lives. After foster care placement, many kids change homes and schools multiple times, facing a near complete upheaval of their routines. Through spending just eight to 10 hours each month speaking with a specific child, getting to know their case and appearing in court on their behalf, most volunteers forge a lasting and important bond.
After these children receive placement in safe and permanent homes, many request to call their CASA volunteer to tell them the effort was worth it. In fact, children who had the help of a CASA volunteer are significantly less likely to be re-abused, with 95 percent not re-entering the court system.
“It’s so critical that kids who are experiencing this disruption have one caring adult -- their CASA volunteer -- who stays the whole time,” Blumel emphasized.
Though Blumel finds many people think they need a specific background or degree to volunteer with CASA, the organization requires just a background check and a strong desire to help. Volunteers must complete a training, then have diverse and flexible options to continue their impact.
“We might not be able to give them everything that we had growing up, but we can sure as heck try,” Ginavan said.
This includes a carefree day at Lee Summit’s Paradise Park as part of the 13th annual Carnival for CASA, which Gordon -- who is acting as the event’s honorary co-chair -- calls “better than even Disney World.” The carnival, unfolding Saturday, Sept. 8, will incorporate classic activities and attractions for kids: bumper cars, a bouncy house, face paint, cotton candy and more. Princesses and superheroes, including Elsa, Captain America and Black Panther, will meet and take pictures with attendees.
The volunteers at Gordon Law Firm describe the event as a chance for the kids CASA protects to “just be kids,” away from the tension and chaos have clouded much of their upbringing.
“I have kids who say to me that it’s the best day of their lives,” Blumel said.