FORT WORTH, Texas - A class of North Texas volunteers had to quickly shift to online training and even online graduation.
Now more than ever, the volunteers believe their work will be needed to help children isolated in a bad situation.
Due to the stay-at-home orders, this is the first time Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA, had to have their latest class of volunteers finish their training online.
Tarrant County Judge Jesse Nevarez swore in the graduating class Friday morning via Zoom, a video conferencing app.
Normally, the volunteers would come to Nevarez’s courtroom. But with the courts being closed due to the coronavirus, they had to improvise. It's the last step needed before the volunteers can be put to work advocating for children in the foster care system.
Their help comes at a crucial time. Last week, Cook Children's Medical Center in Fort Worth said the hospital saw seven cases of severe child abuse. Two of the kids died as a result of their injuries.
“Right now, the cases we see coming in are very severe,” said Natalie Stalmach with CASA Tarrant County. “What our advocates promise to do is be a consistent presence in the children’s life, and they really, really need that right now. Especially not being in school, every normalcy is gone.”
Even though the new volunteers won't be able to meet their CASA kids in-person for now, they'll soon be able to read through the case affidavits and begin communicating with the children, their families both online and by phone.
One of the Tarrant County advocates sworn in Friday is Brittany Bemben. She is a mother of two young girls and works from home. She's eager to get started.
“I think it's important, and I don't think that helping can stop,” she said. “So we'll just have to be resourceful and move forward and help kids in any way we can through technology. As we're able to meet those children and build those bonds in person, well do so. I want to be the person that those children need in that moment from the time I'm assigned to the case and I finish the case.”
In addition to these new volunteers, there are plenty of current CASA volunteers who will continue to carry out their duties online.
The judge said it was his first time to ever use Zoom. He says he's grateful the technology exists to get these volunteers started on their important work of helping children in need.