DREAM BIG: CASA program aims to grant kids’ wishes

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HANCOCK COUNTY — A new wish-granting initiative through the local Court Appointed Special Advocates program, also known as CASA, recently generated more than $20,000 in donations to help make children’s dreams come true.

Friends of Hancock County CASA, a nonprofit that supports the court-sanctioned CASA program, kicked off the “Dream Big!” initiative at an organizational meeting Jan. 11.

The goal is to enable each of the county’s CASA volunteers to spend up to $200 a year on each child in their caseload, which consists of children who have been removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect.

The money can be spent on whatever the child desires, like a trip to a water park, horseback riding, music lessons, or an extra special outfit for the first day of school.

There are currently 57 volunteers and just over 180 children in the local CASA program, said Marciann McClarnon Miller, a CASA volunteer, director of the county’s CASA program and executive director of Friends of Hancock County CASA.

Kids involved with the program likely haven’t had much access to the types of fun experiences and adventures other kids may take for granted, she said.

“These kids are removed from their homes by no fault of their own, and oftentimes find themselves in a very different environment than what they’re used to. It seems like oftentimes, especially with older kids, there’s this little glimmer of hope that is missing in their lives. I thought this might be one way to give them a little bit of hope,” she said.

McClarnon Miller came up with the Dream Big concept last summer, but soon found that similar CASA programs were already underway elsewhere in the country.

She presented the idea to the Friends of Hancock County CASA board members and her boss, Hancock County Circuit Court Judge Scott Sirk, and quickly obtained their blessing to pursue the program.

Friends of Hancock County CASA launched a Dream Big fundraiser by mail at the end of last year, which raised more than $20,000.

”I just knew that if they were presented this opportunity to bring joy to a child’s life that it would resonate with our funders, and it has. They have really stepped up,” McClarnon Miller said.

Friends of Hancock County CASA president, Jim Shircliff, said it’s exciting to have the ability to grant wishes for local kids facing such adversity.

“Some of these 17- and 18-year-olds have known nothing but a lot of strife or sadness or fear in their lives,” he said.

“To be able to provide them with some excitement and joy is a real blessing,” said Shircliff, whose wife, Debbie, is a CASA volunteer.

Fellow CASA volunteer Brian Hurley, a Friends of Hancock County CASA member who serves on the Dream Big committee, feels the same way.

“I think it’s a great idea,” said Hurley, who lives McCordsville.

“A lot of our children get the basics when they go to a foster home, but they dream of things that could improve their life a little bit, and we want to help them fulfill those dreams,” he said.

Hurley knows one child in particular who longs to take ukulele lessons, for example.

“There are a lot of things that can help a child have a nicer life, and we want to be able to give that to them,” said Hurley, who finds fulfillment in advocating for some of the county’s most vulnerable kids.

CASA volunteers show up for their appointed children at court hearings and school meetings, and stop by their homes to visit at least once a month.

“Some of the homes we visit are horrendous. You need three extra layers of skin to be a CASA volunteer, but it’s worth it,” Hurley said.

McClarnon Miller said the kids who find themselves in the CASA program, through no fault of their own, deserve to dream big too.

“We just want to help put a little bit of hope back in their world,” she said.

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