YOUNGSTOWN — Nearly 19 years ago, Renee Battafarano saw an article in the newspaper promoting a group that stood up for children who couldn’t stand up for themselves.
The group she joined was the Mahoning County Court Appointed Special Advocates/Guardian ad Litem Program, a nonprofit organization that recruits, screens, trains, and monitors volunteers who serve as advocates for the best interests of abused and neglected children in the court system.
Since its inception in 1989, volunteers have been assigned to 1,269 children, with 961 cases closed, and 34,260 hours of time donated by committed volunteers.
Battafarano of Youngstown is now the program’s executive director, and she said she’s wanted to work in social services since she graduated from college.
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What’s keeping her involved all of these years is simple: passion.
“I feel like you have to have a passion for the children. You have to have a belief in the concept of the program, which is volunteering,” she said. “[Volunteers] aren’t treating this as a job, they’re treating this as something they want to give back to the community.”
Patti Fisher of Austintown, assistant program director and volunteer coordinator, said she also has a passion for the children, namely standing up for them.
“If we don’t have anyone here to speak up for them they basically have no rights,” Fisher said. “They have no voice in court.”
There are currently 31 CASA volunteers in the program, many of which maintain full-time jobs while volunteering.