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Recognizing the value of volunteers

CASA advocates receive state award

CLARE — Darci Mersch, of Clare, has some simple advice to people hesitant to volunteer.

“Do it,” she said. “You get more out of it than you can imagine.”

Mersch got more than she expected when she received the Governor’s Volunteer Service Award for the hours and effort she contributed to the North Iowa Court Appointed Special Advocate program. She was recently recognized at a regional ceremony attended by Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg, along with three other fellow advocated from the area.

“I was shocked when I found out I was to receive this award,” Mersch said. “I was also very humbled and honored to receive it.”

According to Volunteer Iowa, more than 540 awards will be presented this year in multiple ceremonies across the state. A total of more than 27,000 hours of service were contributed by the honorees, time and effort that is estimated to be worth more than $693,000.

Other North Iowa CASA volunteers who were recognized with the state-level service aware were Denise Wasko, of Rolfe, Holly Brinks, of Garner, and Carol Flaherty, of Mason City.

Such dedicated volunteers are invaluable to CASA, said Crystal Engstrom, coordinator for the North Iowa region, which includes Fort Dodge, Mason City and their surrounding counties. Volunteers are the heart of the child advocacy agency, lending their voices to speak up for vulnerable children in the foster care and child welfare system.

“CASAs are involved in cases so the children don’t fall through the cracks,” Engstrom said. “It’s about helping the system do better for these kids. It’s about helping to dig out information so the judge can be fully informed and make better decisions.”

Mersch herself has traveled more than 2,600 miles this year to visit the youth she was assigned so she could assemble reports for the court on their well-being, Engstrom said.

As an advocate, volunteers are assigned a child who has either been removed from home or put under the supervision of the state. Their responsibilities include regularly visiting with the child; meeting with the case worker, child’s family, and other adults involved in the child’s life; and offering recommendations in reports submitted to the court.

Mersch has been a volunteer with CASA for two years. In addition to the time she gives in that role, she also works as a para-educator in the Fort Dodge Community School District and volunteers as the lead negotiator for the Fort Dodge Teacher Associate’s Bargaining Unit Board. Mersch also keeps busy helping to coach T-ball for her grandchildren and helping friends with landscaping.

She values her role as a volunteer, she said, and she has tried to always find a way to be involved because it’s rewarding.

“It’s getting to know other volunteers and challenging myself to keep learning,” Mersch said. “With CASA specifically, it’s knowing I can make a difference in the life of a child.”

It may not be easy or convenient to give up a block of your time, she added, but when you make volunteering work, it can be worthwhile in so many ways.

For more information on volunteering with the North Iowa Court Appointed Special Advocate program, contact Crystal Engstrom at 866-923-1088 or crystal.engstrom@dia.iowa.gov. Information is also available at www.iowacasa.org.