Not all good deeds go unrecognized. For the last 11 years, Pam Berger has been a tireless volunteer for neglected and abused children as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA). This week she was selected from a statewide field of 2,100 advocates as Georgia CASA of the Year.
Rockdale County Juvenile Court Judge William Schneider made the announcement at CASA's Christmas banquet Tuesday night, hailing Berger's "limitless devotion to children."
The two-time Rockdale CASA of the Year explains they act as the "eyes and ears of the court." They interview everyone involved in a child's life to establish a clear picture and report their findings to the judge helping to decide the best outcome. With budgetary cuts and turnovers, Department of Family and Children Services caseworkers have an overwhelming load. CASAs typically have no more than three cases at a time. "You can dig deeper because you have more time," said Berger.
Ideally, they find a way to make reunification feasible for the family. If not, Berger seeks relative placement or adoption before foster care. "She is highly motivated and productive," said Schneider. "A tireless source of energy for researching and exposing concerns beyond those immediately apparent."
Rockdale CASA Executive Director Lynn Killman described a specific example of Berger's commitment. While following up on a case, Berger discovered an adoptive family had returned the children as unwanted to Pike County DFCS. Since there wasn't a CASA program in Pike County, she asked Schneider to have her appointed in the Pike County Juvenile Court. Despite the commute, she went there frequently to make sure the children were represented. "She has hung in there to make sure these children grow up in a loving home, but also to make sure they know she will always be there for them," said Killman. "She never gives up on the children."
The part-time administrative assistant and avid tennis player said she was at a place in her life where she didn't have to work full-time and wanted to give back. Berger looked at ads for CASA volunteers for two years before answering the call. For her, "not looking at the big picture - you have to keep it small" helps. "Keep your focus on that one child, then it doesn't get too overwhelming," she said.
Besides her diligent advocacy for the children she's assigned, Berger is a champion of CASA. She recruits, trains and fundraises for the nationwide non-profit program. Community volunteers go through an eight-week, 40-hour training course and observe court proceedings before they're sworn in as officers of juvenile court. In Rockdale, there are 50 or so CASAs at a given time, and they're always looking for more.
"The prize is really the children," said Berger, "You remember that every time you have a roadblock or obstacle."
To learn more about Rockdale's CASA program, contact Lynn Killman at 770-761-0202 or firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.rockdalecasa.org.