Fayetteville According to the national Court Appointed Special Advocates website, “every day in this country, 1,900 children become victims of abuse or neglect, and four of them will die. Every day! Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) for Children is a network of 951 community-based programs that recruit, train and support citizen-volunteers to advocate for the best interests of abused and neglected children in courtrooms and communities. Last year there were 75,000 CASA volunteers. For many abused children, a CASA volunteer is the only constant adult presence in their lives.
The local CASA program serves children in Onondaga County. It has 25 active volunteers, and one of those dedicated people is Betty Stark. Stark was born in Syracuse and attended St. Vincent DePaul High School and went on to SUNY Oswego. After getting her master’s degree at Syracuse University and teaching in the Jamesville-Dewitt School District, Stark worked for Lockheed Martin as a Provisioning Specialist and a Logistics Engineer.
While Stark was still employed, she began volunteering by giving pastoral care at Crouse Hospital, which she did for five years. She visited and distributed Communion to patients at Crouse. She was surprised that patients in the same room would beckon her over and want to talk, when, of course, religious affiliation made no difference. For them, it was a fearful time and talking me was productive therapy.
In 1997, Stark founded a non-profit organization called “Tender Mercies.” Its mission was to bring an anti-bullying and child abuse program into the schools. But, after Columbine, New York state mandated a program be put in the schools, and Tender Mercies was no longer needed.
It was about that time a friend told her about volunteer opportunities at CASA, and how she could become a court advocate for children. Onondaga CASA is a program of the Center for Community Alternatives. CASA’s mission is to see that abused and neglected children live in a safe, permanent home as soon as possible. Department Of Children and Family Services social workers have an extensive number of cases so a judge may assign a case to CASA in an effort to gain additional factual information. Hearing that, Stark knew right away that was for her, and became a court advocate in 2011.