OBI Account Director Joins Client’s Cause by Becoming a CASA
“Silence isn’t always golden; especially for children who have suffered abuse and neglect. You can help give them a voice by becoming a CASA volunteer – a court appointed special advocate. Right now in Nebraska more than 2,000 children are in need of a dedicated, caring adult like you who can listen to them and speak up for them. Just some of your time can impact their lifetime. Be the voice of a child. Become a CASA. Find out how at casaforthekids.org”
That appeal formed the backbone of a multi-channel media campaign that OBI Creative Account Director Paul Berger spearheaded for Nebraska CASA. It was so effective that it generated more than 6 million impressions, nearly 7,000 clicks to the campaign landing page and 120 volunteer signups.
Before the awareness campaign, Nebraska CASA experienced 4 – 5 volunteer signups per month. After the five-month media blitz, that number jumped to 7 – 8 per week.
One of those volunteer signups belonged to Paul Berger. His story is the most complete, authentic and perhaps serendipitous experience a full service ad agency can offer a non profit organization.
We caught up with Paul about the campaign for CASA and what motivated him to become one.
What is a CASA?
“A CASA is a “court appointed special advocate;” in essence, a trained volunteer who advocates and speaks up for children who find themselves in juvenile court through no fault of their own. Usually these children enter the court system as a result of neglect or abuse. While each child in the system is assigned a caseworker and attorney, as well as a judge and variety of social services resources, caseworkers and attorneys often have dozens of children to help at any given time, making it difficult for them to get to know the children on a deeper, more personal level, so that they can truly understand and advocate for their best interests. CASAs on the other hand, are typically assigned to one case at a time and remain with their assigned child for the duration of the child’s case. They provide a sense of stability in an unstable atmosphere. As unpaid volunteers, CASAs only motivation is to help their children find safe, permanent homes and get access to the resources they need to be successful. CASAs get to know the child, find out what they want, and speak up for them in court through special CASA reports that they write.
A CASA is an advocate for the child and his or her needs.”
How does a CASA help a child in the juvenile court system?
“One of the most important ways CASAs help children is through the reports they prepare. A CASA’s report is filled with information about the child and answers questions like, ‘Who do they want to live with permanently?’ ‘What do they like to do?’ ‘How do they spend their time?’ Reports cover mundane things like the child’s favorite toy, food and sports team as well as deep and meaningful factors like their fears, hopes and dreams. CASAs interview the child and everyone around the child to get as full of a picture as possible of that child so that the judge, attorneys and all involved can better understand the child’s needs. As a judge once said, ‘…a CASA’s report paints a picture for me and brings the child to life for me so they are not just another case number.’”
There are 700 to 800 CASAs in Nebraska and nearly 2,000 children who still need a CASA assigned to their case. So, despite the incredible success of the campaign, the need for CASAs remains.”
How did you move from Account Director for CASA to volunteering to become one yourself?
“One of the great things about working for OBI Creative is the number of non profit clients we get to work with. It’s very fulfilling to support their mission through marketing efforts. When the Nebraska CASA Association came to our agency with a request to create a campaign to reach more volunteers, I had not heard of CASA before and had no idea what they did. Essentially, I was an excellent candidate for the campaign I was helping to create.
Immediately after working with the client I understood the need for more volunteers, and was moved by the stories I heard. Still, I didn’t act on my feelings initially. It took 6 months or more for me to sign up online (using our campaign landing page of course!).”
What motivated you to act?
“I went to the CASA fundraising gala to support my client and maybe bid on some raffle items. At the gala, I heard the testimony of a young woman who, as a child, got lost in the court system. Through deceit and half truths, the mother manipulated the courts into committing her daughter to a behavioral detention center.
“As a frightened and confused young child, the woman didn’t have a CASA to advocate on her behalf and tell the court her side of the story. While her situation was eventually resolved, it was not before a lot of pain and wasted time had passed. Today, the young woman is a CASA volunteer so that she can help children not to suffer the same fate that she had.
“At that point, I was hooked. My last child had gone to college and I was officially an “empty nester.” With a little more time on my hands I could watch more TV or I could meet a need in a child’s life and do my part to help them along. When I submitted my application form online, my client responded immediately saying, ‘Is this for real or is this another one of those test submissions that you send?!’ I replied, ‘No, it’s for real. When is the first training session?’”
What was the training like to become a CASA? Were you overwhelmed?
“I had five, weekly training sessions with take home reading and online activities in between. Training was engaging and at times felt overwhelming only due to the myriad of complicated scenarios one might face within juvenile court and child placement. However, you have the guidance and support of a CASA supervisor who mentors and assists you with your case.
“I was sworn in as a CASA by a judge of the Douglas County Juvenile Court in May and assigned my first case shortly thereafter. The summer has gone by quickly. The permanency hearing is on the horizon which means my report to the court will be due soon. I hope it will be the first of many reports in the years to come.”
We’re thankful to have the privilege of helping non-profit organizations like Nebraska CASA spread the word about the important work they do for our communities. Paul’s story inspires all of us at OBI Creative to keep working, both at our day jobs for the agency, and in our free time, to make our community a better place to live for everyone in them.