There are thousands of volunteer opportunities in the Philadelphia area. The best volunteers are usually those who feel passionate about a cause, are able to draw on and expand skills or strengths they have and are given the chance to fully engage in their selected opportunity. This article profiles opportunities where the volunteer is the voice for the voiceless.
Opportunity: CASA Philadelphia (www.CASAPhiladelphia.org)
CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) of Philadelphia is an organization largely comprised of volunteers who are paired up with a child who has been removed from their family home and placed in the foster care system. These volunteers help ensure that the children have a voice and that their needs are being met. The CASA volunteer follows their assigned-matches, no matter how many foster homes the child might go through; as a result, the CASA volunteer often becomes the only constant in the life of the child.
As Colleen Friedman, a CASA volunteer stated: “We are the voice of the children, sometimes the only voice…The end goal is reunification with the parent(s) but only if the parent has completed all tasks ordered by the courts. If that is not possible then you will stay with the child either until they are placed in an adoption or until they age out of the system. In my opinion, it is worth every difficult thing you have to go through to see that child’s face light up when they see you because they’ve learned to trust that you are there for them and won’t let them down.”
Besides loving children, what does it take to become a CASA volunteer? CASA volunteers undertake a 12-week course, one evening a week for three hours each night; pass a background check including criminal and Federal background check, as well as FBI clearance and have a swearing-in ceremony. In addition, they need ten hours of continuing education each year. And of course, the CASA volunteer needs to have the time to follow their assigned children and to report to the court, at least quarterly, as to how the children are doing.
PALS and the Black Cat Café (www.TheBlackCatCafe.org; www.palspets.org)
Although I’ve often seen cats for adoption at our local PetSmart through PALS, I was completely unaware, until recently, of PAL’s The Black Cat Café, until animal advocate Tabatha Gordon mentioned it to me. Of course, I had to check it out! Located on the main line in Devon, the Black Cat Cafe is a volunteer-run restaurant and gift shop, operated through PALS (The Pet Adoption and Lifecare Society). The restaurant serves breakfast and assorted upscale salads, sandwiches, soups, coffees and desserts and just celebrated their first-year anniversary in March 2012. Every penny the café raises is used to help save the lives of adoptable pets; in 2011, over one thousand animals were saved through the efforts of PALS. The restaurant has a warm, cozy feel when visiting.
Black Cat Café volunteers are needed who can commit three or more hours a week to help out in the café and gift shop, to make telephone calls and other tasks. PALS volunteers help by providing homes to foster animals until a permanent match is found, rescuing stray, homeless and unwanted pets and preparing them to join a home permanently or by staffing the adoption center at a local participating PetSmart. PALS volunteers who foster become the voice for the animal they foster, helping to discover the characteristics of the pet and helping to ensure that the family that is found for them is an appropriate match.