The word "casa" means "home" in Spanish.
Over the past year, the work of CASA volunteer Paula Aronson has allowed the Alta resident to make a difference for children in several homes around the area.
Last month, she was recognized by the Governor of Iowa for her efforts.
Aronson, a citizen of Alta for four years, was honored Sept. 24 at the 19th Annual Governor's Awards in Storm Lake for her work as a court appointed special advocate (CASA) for the Iowa Department of Justice.
Aronson's responsibilities are concentrated around Buena Vista and Cherokee Counties, and she said her job was to help care for abused children in those locales.
"Our duties are really to be the eyes and ears of the judges for abused children around the area," Aronson said. "We are assigned to one family, and the primary goal is to help the children in any way possible and reunify the family if the child has been placed in foster care."
Aronson's work puts her in contact with a large number of people throughout local communities such as Alta, Storm Lake and Cherokee, as she must talk to everyone who has been involved with her assigned case.
This list includes family members, teachers, doctors, psychologists and friends of both the child and family, and Aronson said she will use information from all of those sources to better help the child or children she is responsible for.
"Our goal is to make sure that the kids are being taken care of and if there are problems in the home, to try to help correct those problems," Aronson said. "That's why we want to try to keep in touch with as many people as possible. It is a tough job, but it's one that is very rewarding."
"The sole purpose of CASA is to speak up for the children and make sure they are being taken care of," Fritz said. "They are assigned by the court as an independent fact-finder to gather information, investigate the case and stay on top of the case to make sure the orders of the court are being followed by everyone involved. It's a very important job, and Paula's done an excellent job for us so far."
Aronson had been a volunteer for a family violence center in Fort Dodge when she previously lived in that city, and after moving to Alta, she was looking to become involved in similar work around the Buena Vista region.
She found the opportunity she had been looking for last year when CASA regional director Kathy Fritz came to speak before a Kiwanis Club meeting held at Addie's Place, a bed and breakfast business Aronson was operating off Main Street in Alta.
"I had always been interested in that stuff, and, after hearing Kathy speak, I decided to get into something like CASA that would help kids, since I love being around kids and helping them," Aronson said. "So, I took the CASA training, Kathy gave me a family and that was the beginning of it."
Fritz said CASA volunteers are assigned one case at a time in order for them to give each individual case the attention they deserve and to help the family as best they can.
A program implemented in all 50 states, the national average length of CASA cases is 12 to 18 months, but Fritz said there have been instances when individual cases have lasted well over two years.
While the job takes a large amount of time, Fritz said Aronson and the 23 other CASA volunteers benefit from the reduction in the number of cases each must be in charge of.
"It can be time-consuming, but it's a lot easier to manage one case than many cases," Fritz said. "I think we can do a better job of helping these children because each person only has to focus on one case, and they know exactly what has happened from the beginning of the case. That helps everyone that's involved in this tremendously."
Aronson initially did not realize what the Governor's Awards were, but after learning more about the subject from Fritz, she said she appreciated being nominated for the accolade very much.
"I got a letter from the Governor's office saying I was nominated for this award, and I had no idea what it was for at all," Aronson said. "I called Kathy Fritz up and asked her about it, and when she explained what it was, I felt honored to just be nominated. I thought it was nice to be recognized for the work that I've done."
In addition to her volunteerism with CASA, Aronson is also involved in a host of other activities around the Alta area.
She serves as secretary to the Alta Chamber of Commerce, runs Addie's Place, helps with VFW dinners every month and operates a day care Monday through Friday.
Aronson said she is able to juggle all of her responsibilities during the week by using a variety of different available social services to communicate with her CASA family, which is first and foremost on her agenda.
"All of my CASA kids right now are in school, so I go in to see them on weekends," Aronson said. "One of them is in foster care out of town, so I talk to her over the phone. There are other services that the kids use as well, so I'm in contact with all of those organizations to keep up-to-date on what's happening with all of the kids as well."
Aronson said she plans to continue her work with CASA for many more years, and said she hopes she can convince more people to enter similar lines of volunteer work as well.
"I really enjoy it," Aronson said. "It's very, very rewarding. It's something that is needed quite a bit around the area, and I'd definitely like to see more people get involved with it."