Kane County CASA lands largest grant in its history, funds will help train advocates

CASA Kane County, which recruits and trains court-appointed special advocates for abused and neglected children, has received a $499,000 grant for training and education, the largest grant in its 30-year history.

The Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, which doles out federal grant money through the Victims of Crime Act, announced Kane's grant this week as part of distributing some $2.7 to similar organizations across the state.

Officials at CASA Kane County knew about the grant, which now makes up about 20 percent of its budget, in mid-January and have the wheels in motion to put the funding to use.

"This is the biggest grant we've applied for," said Gloria Kelley, CASA Kane County executive director. "It's going to be work for us, but we are grateful and fortunate they believe in our mission. It gives us a little breathing room, but not complacency."

CASA Kane County has about 220 to 225 volunteer court-appointed special advocates and serves more than 600 abused and neglected minors in the court system.

Kelley said the grant will fund a "CASA University" of sorts, where CASAs can have immediate online access to continuing education and training. The grant also will pay for a full-time director of education and resources to help CASAs better serve children, along with recruiting new members.

Kelley and Vicki Shaw, CASA Kane County's Vice President of Advancement, said statewide CASA leaders approached ICJIA years ago to inform them of CASA's overall mission and to open up eligibility.

CASA Kane County relies on private donations, as well as a combination of grants and fundraisers. Becoming a CASA volunteer takes extensive training, 10 to 12 hours a month of volunteer and court time, and some court cases can run for several years.

"(The grant is) helping us get back to where we need to be," said Shaw, noting CASA Kane County may apply again for the next two years.

In December, the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority rejected a $104,368 grant application from the Kane County state's attorney's office to help pay for three Victims Rights Advocates. The funding was through the same federal Victims of Crime Act, but a different subsection.

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