Counties merging advocacy groups for children

Jackson County CASA (Court-Appointed Special Advocates) will merge with the smaller Josephine County CASA, giving the Josephine County operation a nonprofit status but keeping it as a satellite branch, with its donations separate.

Jennifer Mylenek, director of Jackson County CASA, will become director of the Josephine County operation when the change goes into effect Oct. 1, and Sadie Emmons, director of the Josephine County office, will become program manager there.

Mylenek said in a statement that Emmons has done a "wonderful job" and will continue working with the Juvenile Justice Department, Department of Human Services, the courts and other agencies "to advocate for the safety and permanency of our children who are in challenging situations."

The two operations, which oversee trained volunteers who work on behalf of children from abusive families, have been collaborating for some time, and "we already know their strengths and weaknesses," said Daria Land, director of communications and development for the Jackson County office.

The boards of both agencies voted unanimously for the merger.

The shift will enable Josephine County to grow and take on and train more CASA volunteers, and help more children, said Christina Lassman, chair of the Jackson County board.

The Medford-based CASA has a budget of $530,000, with about 170 CASA volunteers and 11 employees.

It is serving 346 children, with 198 on a waiting list, Lassman said. The Josephine County office has two employees and 30 volunteers, serving 90 children, with 200 on a waiting list.

"There is always a high demand for CASAs, and we want to help them serve more children and do fundraising on their own," said Lassman, noting that until now, the Josephine County operation was under the county government.

CASA locally gets some state funding and most of its money comes from individual and foundation fundraising, said Land. Although a CASA is mandated by the federal government "to advocate for the safety and well-being of children who have come under the care of Child Welfare due to parental abuse and/or neglect," the federal government provides only a small amount of funding, she added.

The big fundraiser of the year for CASA is "Southern Oregon's Got Talent," now in its third season. This year's event is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 13, at the Craterian Theater at the Collier Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets cost $15, and each vote cast sends $1 to CASA. It's hosted live by KOBI-TV, with Laura Cavanaugh and Gemineye of KISS-FM. It raised more than $18,000 last year.

"From the beginning, this (merger) made sense from a community and fiscal perspective," said Benjamin Smith, board member for CASA of Jackson County. "There are clear synergies where time, energy and resources will be better focused on training child advocates and protecting children in our communities starting on day one."

CASA volunteers, said Land, "advocate for the child and are party to the case but are independent of all agencies and lawyers and are usually the one consistent factor in the child's life."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at

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