New Socorro CASA coordinator on board

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Lori Cummings has taken the helm at the local Court Appointed Special Advocates office as county coordinator.

She is spending her first week in the office with Rio Grande Valley CASA district coordinator Ginni Jones, learning the ropes from the seven year CASA veteran.

Cummings is coming in on the heels of Jenny Farmer, former local coordinator who left last week to work in San Antonio at the school.

CASA, Farmer said during a recent presentation for the Civitan Club, is a nonprofit organization that investigates abused and neglected children who are in foster care.

Advocates conduct interviews with parents, teachers and others involved in the child’s life in order to write reports that a judge can use to make a decision about the status of the child — whether he or she will remain in foster care or be placed back in the care of parents.

Usually, the judge will ask the opinion of the advocates in such cases.

Farmer said it is an “honor,” to be working so closely with the judges.

While the Children, Youth and Families Department performs the investigations, “CASA is there from the beginning,” Farmer said. The advocates help a child from the time they become aware of a problem through the child’s court date and subsequent days in foster or parent care.

Farmer said CASA doesn’t have many children in foster care right now, “which is good,” but she believes more children should be in the program.

Right now, nine people in the area are working as advocates on a volunteer basis.

“That’s high,” Farmer said.

It’s worthwhile, she said. CASA has eight cases it’s working on right now: five new ones last year, two the previous year and one the year before that.

CASA volunteers are not paid for the work they do, Farmer said.

The local coordinator is paid for 15 hours a week at $12 an hour but receives no benefits.

“The greatest benefit is working with the kids,” Farmer said at the Civitan meeting.

“She’s done an excellent job,” said Assistant District Attorney Keith Valles. “We’re going to miss her.”

The requirements to be a CASA include being at least 21-years-old and have no criminal record.

Farmer added that the advocates need to have a heart for children and “thick skin,” because the cases aren’t pretty. Also, volunteers have to undergo 30 hours of training and attend monthly meetings.

Now Cummings, replacing Farmer, will have the job of organizing local CASAs, assigning cases and overseeing county operations. “I think Lori is going to do a fine job,” Jones said. “I think she has the right heart for it.”

So many things arise that a coordinator has to deal with, Jones said, and Cummings has no fear about doing it.

“I think she’s got a really good disposition,” she said.

Jones manages the largest CASA district in the lower 49 United States. Only Alaska has a bigger district.

Districts follow court lines, and the 7th Judicial District encompasses Sierra, Socorro, northern Catron and Torrance counties.

Cummings will be managing the Socorro and northern Catron areas.

Because of the size of the district, and because there are three county managers, Jones said, funding is stretched thin for the program.

One of Cummings new duties will be to oversee fundraisers.

On Sept. 22, CASAs biggest fundraiser for the year takes place at the New Mexico Tech golf course in the form of a golf tournament.

Anyone interested in participating can call the Tech Pro Shop at 835-5335 to get on the list. Payment is not due until the day of the event. Registration is from 7 to 7:59 on Sept. 22 for a four-person scramble.

A single entry is $75, a team can register for $300 and hole sponsors pay $100.

Socorro County CASA can be reached at 838-4031.