Child advocacy group opens office in Berkeley Springs

by Trish Rudder

CASA or Court Appointed Special Advocate of the Eastern Panhandle with an office in Martinsburg has recently opened an office in Morgan County.

Local resident Melody Stotler is the volunteer supervisor and opened the new office in early September. She said via email that she is usually in The Pines office on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Stotler joined CASA in August, has worked in healthcare at Tri-State Community Health and served as program coordinator for the Morgan County Partnership specializing in drug prevention, according to the press release.

“Joining CASA-EP was a true calling. I’m thrilled to be part of the expansion happening right now, despite this challenging year,” Stotler said in the press release.

In addition to providing office space for Stotler, “I have a conference table set up if we need to do training, and it will allow for volunteers to come in and work on reports, research, etc. We use a system for tracking called Optima, and we want to help volunteers become comfortable with using it, so we are offering one-on-one training,” she said.

Stotler said they are still in the process of setting up their internet and phone line but hope to have that completed by November.

The volunteers typically work out of their homes, but they are welcome to come to the office and work, she said.

Outreach consultant Julia Yuhasz in the Martinsburg office said last Thursday that a more present and available staff was needed in Morgan County.

“CASA has seen an increased number of abuse and neglect cases in Morgan County for 2020,” Stotler said on Friday.

“The majority of those cases need an advocate,” Stotler said.  “One case might have one child; another may include four children. Most advocates take on one case at a time and follow it until the conclusion. We have several still from 2018 and 2019. More experienced advocates will take on more than one if needed,” Stotler said.

“And we also have advocates who work in teams. One might be able to attend the court hearings and the other is better at meeting with the children and writing reports,” she said.

“We are the voice for the child,” Stotler said in defining what a volunteer would do on behalf of a child in court.

“We investigate the case to see what has occurred, meet with children (mentor/bond) and others in the family and have an unbiased opinion on the best possible outcome for the child. We also assist in finding resources for the family; we write reports for the judge; we work with the team to provide a safe and permanent home. Sometimes that includes reunification with the parents and sometimes it includes kinship placement or with a foster family. Oftentimes the CASA is the one person who is the consistent person through their life. I serve as a Big Sister in Washington County, Md. The roles are similar to me, but with CASA, the relationship developed because the court is involved. Even after a child is placed in a permanent home, many CASA’s stay in the lives of the child. Some have even been there for the child’s graduation or walked them down the aisle. It’s truly amazing how one life can be changed forever by a CASA,” Stotler said.

CASA volunteers are needed, and remote training will be offered on October 19.

Those interested in volunteering with CASA of the Eastern Panhandle can learn more at the website and must apply online to become an advocate.

“We want to make sure we are meeting the needs of the children,” Yuhasz said.

The Morgan County CASA office is located at The Pines Opportunity Center, 34 War Memorial Trail in Berkeley Springs.

For additional information, Stotler may be reached at 301-331-2916.