Athens-Oconee CASA Peer Coordinator Program
Since 2016 Athens Oconee CASA has utilized the Peer Coordinator (PC) model to serve more cases and support more volunteers. Now in 2021 we are taking a moment to look at how far this initiative has come and its impact on our program!
PCs are seasoned volunteers with case work experience and familiarity with the CASA role. They are nominated for this opportunity and undergo a special training prior to taking on volunteers of their own. Like CASAs Peer Coordinators are still volunteers. We as staff recognize the hard work and dedication it takes to become a Peer Coordinator. PCs have become a vital part of our work and service in Athens and Oconee counties!
We interviewed our current PCs and asked them to share a little more about why they became a PC, key takeaways of the program, and advice for those who become PCs with our program in the future.
What inspired you to become a PC?
When asked if she would be willing to serve as a PC, Patty Riehm, who has been a PC with Athens-Oconee CASA for a year and a half, said, "the idea appealed to me because teaching and mentoring have always been a part of my work life." The Peer Coordinator position allows volunteers to offer guidance and mentorship to CASAs, which is often already a big part of their daily lives!
What is the biggest thing you learned from the PC program?
Patty Riehm described perfectly the effectiveness of the PC program, and how it allows CASA to reach and support more children:
"I have 3 CASAs and 3 cases but at one time it was 4, for a total of 7 children. I am not spending any more hours per month than I was I was as a CASA with one case that had one child."
Not only do PCs help Athens-Oconee CASA reach more children in the community, but it does so by increasing efficiency without a drastic jump in volunteer hours required from each person!
What kinds of tasks do you perform on a weekly basis as a PC?
What is your favorite part of being a PC?
Susan Evans has been a Peer Coordinator for the past 2 years, and still feels inspired by the energy of new CASAs each day:
"I find the enthusiasm of the new CASAs I work with encouraging & contagious. (I suppose it's safe to suggest it's a self-selecting group of caring people.) Naturally, I also love seeing faster forward motion toward successful resolutions for foster kids once a dedicated CASA gets involved."
What is one thing you want to tell to people who are considering becoming a Peer Coordinator?
"Don't be discouraged from being a Peer Coordinator just because you feel like you don't know enough about all the ins & outs (and acronyms!) of the complex system. We're all aware of deficits in our knowledge-bases, but the support of the employees is tremendously helpful at filling in the gaps." -Susan Evans
.June 1st marked the beginning of LGBTQ+ Pride Month, a time to celebrate and recognize the impact that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and other members of this community have had on history locally, nationally, and internationally. At Athens-Oconee CASA, we want to express our support for the LGBTQ+ community not just in our area, but across the globe. Everyone deserves the right and freedom to live their truth.
Although significant strides have been made towards full support and acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community, it is important to recognize the current challenges that are still present. According to "Supporting Your LGBTQ Youth: A Guide for Foster Parents" a resource compiled by Child Welfare Information Gateway and The Children's Bureau "Youth who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, or other diverse identity (LGBTQ+) are overrepresented in foster care (Human Rights Campaign, 2015), with at least three studies estimating about 30 percent of youth in foster care identify as LGBTQ+ (Baams et al., 2019; Matarese et al., 2021; Sandfort, 2020)."
LGTBT+ Children in Foster Care
"78 percent of LGBT youth in one study were removed or ran away from foster placements because of the caregiver’s hostility toward their sexual orientation or gender identity."
"Furthermore, LGBT youth in foster care are less likely than other youth to find a permanent home, whether through reunification with their birth or kin families or through adoption."
[statistics pulled from youth.gov]
Foster youth facing bias and challenges on the basis of their sexuality need to be supported in their homes and community to make them feel comfortable living their truth. It is also important that both children and foster families are made aware of extra support resources around them and use them to help.
Weston Gallo is an example of how supporting LGBTQ+ foster children and their sexuality can turn their life around. Weston interviewed for a blog post with FosterClub in early 2020, describing his experience leaving his biological family and being placed in foster care. After years of struggling with both his sexual and racial identity, Weston found a home where he finally felt loved and supported.
Gallo was placed in foster care at age 14 due to "[his] sexual orientation, negligence, and a hostile home environment. It really made [him] feel like [he] wasn’t enough, as if the dark thoughts in [his] head were true" (FosterClub). Weston also states that he felt unloved, as his biological father would threaten to "beat the gay out of him" and failed to support his son's sexuality.
Weston then was placed in a series of rural placements where support for the LGBTQ+ community was almost nonexistent. He also faced placements falling through because of fears that he would "turn the other children gay." Weston struggled with depression and thoughts of suicide, primarily when he was placed in a residential facility under emergency shelter status.
Weston eventually found his forever home when he met his two fathers. He says, "When I met my forever family I instantly knew that it was where I was always meant to be, they welcomed me with open arms and never once made me feel like I didn’t belong. It was the first connection with a family that made feel like I was their own" (FosterClub).
Gallo is now an advocate for children and serves as an LGBTQ foster youth ambassador for the Human Rights Campaign, among other positions that allow him to tell his story and increase awareness for many of the challenges facing LGBTQ+ foster youth. He stresses that children in foster care are looking for a family that will love and support them continuously.
Weston Gallo isn't the only example of the struggles that many LGBTQ+ children face in the foster care system- there are countless stories from across the country where youth face these same challenges and more.
It is of the utmost importance for children to feel supported in their placements. Below is a list of LGBTQ+ Resources local to our area that may be useful in providing extra support to foster youth:
Athens Queer Collective
“We're a small but mighty collective of local Athenians who are coming together to work toward building a stronger, more cohesive, and inclusive Athens queer community through education, outreach, community support, and advocacy.” This organization offers support groups for LGBTQIA+ youth in the community as well as hosts educational workshops.
Phone Number: 706-372-2031
Atlanta Coalition for LGBTQ Youth
“The Atlanta Coalition for LGBTQ Youth (ACFLY) is a consortium of youth-serving non-profits and other service providers working together to promote community-wide LGBTQ, youth and intersectional cultural humility, increase inter-agency collaboration and facilitate referrals across service providers.”. Falls under the Georgia Equality umbrella.
1530 DeKalb Avenue NE
Atlanta, GA 30307
LGBT Resource Center at the University of Georgia
“The mission of the LGBT Resource Center is to create an inclusive and sustainable space of self-discovery for the LGBT community within the University of Georgia. We support and affirm every student inclusive of sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, and expression. The LGBT Resource Center serves as a space by which all members of the University of Georgia community can engage and explore issues associated with sexual and gender identities. This mission is achieved by our commitment to an intersectional social justice framework, leadership development, and equity”
221 Memorial Hall
Athens, GA 30602
Phone Number: 706-542-4077
“The mission of Live Forward is to build healthier communities through stable housing, improved health management, string community outreach and widespread prevention services, ensuring those we help live with dignity and a positive quality of life.”. This agency has offices in Monroe and Athens.
2500 West Broad Street
Athens, GA 30606
Athens Office Phone Number: 706-549-3730
Monroe Office Phone Number: 770-266-0338
OUR HOPE Metropolitan Community Church
“Our Hope Metropolitan Community Church is an active congregation within the international fellowship of Metropolitan Community Church. Like all MCC churches around the world, Our Hope plays a vital role in addressing the spiritual needs of all people, but especially the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and "straight-but-not-narrow" community. We are located in Athens, Georgia”.
PFLAG Athens Area
“Our local PFLAG Athens Area group hopes to meet monthly–to talk, support each other, support our family members, and advocate for them and other queer people in Athens and surrounding counties”. This organization is currently hosting virtual meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic for safe and easy access.
Specialty Care Clinic
“Specialty Care Clinic provides outpatient, primary healthcare services in the Northeast (Athens, Georgia Area) Health District for individuals living with HIV/AIDS, under the Ryan White Care Act. We pride ourselves on our clinic's patient privacy measures, care comprehensiveness and accessibility as well as health education and patient satisfaction rates. At Specialty Care Clinic, our goal is to empower patients to make healthy decisions and feel confident and in control of their medical care.”
Phone Number: 706-425-2935
“The Cottage acknowledges that all survivors have more identities than survivor. Each person holds complex, intersectional identities that impact how they experience trauma, support, and healing. LGBTQ persons have higher rates of experiencing sexual violence, while also having lower rates of reporting, accessing services, and familial support. At The Cottage, we work to reduce barriers that LGBTQ survivors face when obtaining services by providing accessible, knowledgeable, and affirming support, referrals, and advocacy” The Cottage provides not only services for LGBTQ+ Adults, but Youth as well.
3019 Lexington Road
Athens, GA 30605
Phone Number: (706) 546-1133
The Health Initiative, Georgia’s Voice for LGBTQ Youth
“The Health Initiative is dedicated to improving the health and wellbeing of Georgia’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer community through education, support, access to care and advocacy.”
1530 DeKalb Avenue
Atlanta GA 30307
Phone Number: 404-688-2524
Crystal Hamilton LCSW
Specialties include anxiety, trauma and PTSD, and racial identity. Crystal Hamilton identifies as a part of the LGBTQ+ community and uses a wide range of therapy approaches in practice. She is comfortable with individuals and groups. Accepts adolescent clients ages 14+.
675 Pulaski Street
Athens, GA 30606
Phone: (762) 220-2648
Lynn Thompson with Ray of Hope Counseling Services, Inc.
Specialties include family conflict, anxiety, and children. She also has a background in counseling for ADHD and Domestic Violence. She identifies as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. Accepts clients of all ages starting at toddlers/preschoolers and above.
1060 Gaines School RD
Athens, GA 30605
Phone: 678-726-1362 ext. 101
Marielle Stair with Athens Counseling & Psychotherapy, LLC
Specialties include addiction, grief, self-harming, life transitions, and anxiety. Marielle identifies as a part of the LGBTQ+ and uses a wide variety of therapeutic approaches. She is a trauma focused clinician and has cultural competence training. Accepts adolescent clients ages 14+. Virtual counseling is offered at this practice.
Nikki Kiki Stovall
Specialties include anxiety, coping skills, trauma/PTSD, self-esteem and transgender identity. Nikki identifies as a part of the LGBTQ+ community, is African American, and is an Army Veteran. She is a trauma focused clinician that uses a wide variety of treatment approaches. Accepts clients ages 11+.
Tyshawn Kingsberry LCSW
Specialties include anxiety, depression, and spirituality. Tyshawn Kingsberry is an African American women who identifies as a part of the LGTBQIA+ community. Accepts adolescent clients ages 14+. CBT and Strengths-Based approaches are used in this practice.
Places of Peace Counseling Inc.
405 Gaines School Road
Athens, GA 30605
RISE Program at Advantage Behavioral Heath
RISE is a grant funded program geared towards African American women living with HIV, or African American women who engage in risky behaviors.
250 North Ave
Athens, GA 30601
A Day in the Life of a Remote Worker: How Children First Inc. & Athens-Oconee CASA are adjusting to remote work
This spotlight illustrates how remote workers at Athens-Oconee CASA find freedom and motivation in their everyday life and their transition to online work. Get inspired on how you can improve your workspace, workflow, and organization in a remote setting, and hear about the steps we're taking to stay involved from home!
The Challenges of Working Remotely
When the physical office of Athens-Oconee CASA closed due to COVID-19, our staff was forced to completely change their workplace and adjust to a non-face-to-face setting. Susie Weller, Executive Director of Children First Inc., said that the biggest challenge for her initially was "the Unknown:”
"Initially, it was the unknown. How are we going to do this? What equipment will we need? How do we maintain services to clients? What will happen with funding and donations? After a year, we now know- everything went digital. Communication, sharing documentation, training, conversations, funding- all of it. I would say the biggest thing now is the disconnect from staff and missing the laughter in the building."
Executive Director, Children First
Other staff have also noted difficulties in separating "work time" and "home time" in a remote environment. When your personal life and your work are both under the same roof, it gets harder to switch off.
The distractions of "home"- pets, family, roommates, etc.- have also been mentioned as hard-to-control interruptions!
How our Staff is Navigating a Remote Workplace
Perhaps the biggest lesson our CASA staff has learned over the last year is flexibility: A lot can get done from home, remotely. It took some adjusting to Zoom, Teams, and more, but we can function and function well in a hybrid model of work environment.
One way our staff is approaching this new style of work is through organization and separation of "work space" and "home space." Some staff have separate rooms where they store all of their work-related technology, files, and equipment to make it feel more like a distinct work area. This separation also helps us minimize distractions and really focus our efforts on each day's mission!
Our staff also loves to connect virtually and chat about how we're feeling! Staff regularly chats through IM during the day and on scheduled weekly meetings, which helps us keep the sense of connection that we may be missing being out of office. These virtual meetings are a great way to catch up, debrief, and plan out our calendars! It is also a great way to connect new summer interns and allow them to get to know the team.
Moving forward: Returning to our Office
Although we have grown used to our remote workday, our staff is excited to return to the physical office in 2021. Staff mentioned that this shift will help us reorganize and feel more comfortable in a familiar place. Most of all, we can't wait to catch up with our co-workers and hear the laughter in the building once again!
693 North Pope St.
Athens, GA 3060
Athens Oconee CASA is located at:
693 North Pope Street
Athens, GA 30601
Staff working hours: Mon - Fri 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
Building hours: Mon and Wed only 10:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.