CASA Jackson County plans expansion to assist more children

Mike Genet

Jackson County Court Appointed Special Advocates is on track this year to serve more than 1,200 children who have been removed from homes for their safety. 

Of nearly 1,100 children assisted so far this year in the county, 30 percent come from homes not in Kansas City, which CASA says is typical from year to year.  

Angie Blumel, president/CEO of Jackson County Court Appointed Special Advocates, shows off what will be the library when CASA’s expansion is complete next year. CASA, which serves hundreds of children annually from Eastern Jackson County, purchased the house immediately next to its Kansas City headquarters and plans to join the buildings together.

The nonprofit organization is one of the largest CASA programs in the country and knows it can serve more children who've experienced abuse and neglect, but it has run out of space at its headquarters in Kansas City. 

With a planned expansion over the next year, announced this week, CASA hopes to serve at least 1,500 children annually, and in much roomier settings. Jackson County CASA, which has been headquartered in a century-old house at 2544 Holmes St. in Kansas City, less than a block from the Jackson County Family Court, has bought the similar house next door and plans to join the two buildings together, doubling its usable space to more than 10,000 square feet. 

The “Space to Thrive” campaign has raised $3.1 million toward its $3.7 million goal, which also will fund additional services. Angie Blumel, CASA's CEO, said the organization will soon move to temporary, donated office space in Kansas City's Crossroads district, and contractors should have the combined and renovated space ready next summer. 

CASA volunteers meet one-on-one with children and other involved parties, usually about 10 hours a month, and help judges try to make best decisions about children's living arrangements and necessary services, and Blumel said they're always looking to add volunteers (they currently have about 350 active ones). 

“It's been our vision that we're always trying to expand,” Blumel said. “We want kids to feel positive and safe when they come to CASA, but the meeting space right now is not enough and we need to expand.” 

As many children as CASA serves, it still fewer than half of ther children in the county in court custody. 

“We know the kids are there, and we want them to have a CASA volunteer,” Blumel said. 

The additional house formerly served as offices for Lilac Center, a counseling service that moved elsewhere. Blumel said that while CASA needs to expand, it needed to stay close to Family Court, and the owner of the new house was glad to work with the CASA on the transaction. 

The front area of the renovated houses will serve as much larger meeting space for volunteers, children and families. There will be dedicated spaces for a library, kitchen and training volunteers, and one basement will be remodeled to serve as space for older youth graduating out of the foster care system, with a classroom, computers and even laundry and shower facilities. 

Blumel pointed from her planned new office, where the window looks out to the front of Family Court and one will see the reactions of family reunions and finalized adoptions. 

“So, I'll get to see some really beautiful stuff,” she said. 

In general, CASA says children with a volunteer from its organization have been far less likely to suffer recurring abuse or go through a placement change, are more likely to find a permanent home and spend less time in foster care and experience more success at school. 

CASA volunteers Josie Sutkin and Bill Nelson both said they're mostly looking forward to the more open meeting space from the planned expansion. 

“It's a little cramped,” Sutkin said, “and they do so many things where if you come and see inside, it's packed. 

“The system is stressed trying to promote the needs of children,” she said, and CASA shows the value of one adult “being that constant person” in a child's sometimes traumatic formative years. 

“Seeing the impact of trauma on children, the difference we can make in one child's life,” Nelson said, “I was fortunate and had a safe, happy childhood – that's something every kid deserves.”