Children 's welfare given top priority by advocate

Marlene Johnson and her husband considered becoming foster parents when they moved to Augusta in 1980.

They had four young children of their own, though, and weren't sure how long they would be in Augusta, Mrs. Johnson said.

"We didn't want to take in children and suddenly have to leave them. That wouldn't have been fair to them," she said. "But we always believed that every child deserves to have a family."

Twenty-four years later, Mrs. Johnson still held that belief, and though she didn't become a foster parent, she signed up to be a court-appointed special advocate for Child Enrichment Inc.

The volunteers undergo several background checks. They also receive 30 hours of classroom training and an additional 10 in court observation before being placed on a case.

After they complete training, they can be appointed by a judge to advocate and look out for children who have been removed from their homes because of abuse or neglect, she said.

"The children encounter a lot of strangers between the time they are taken out of their home to the time they are placed in a safe, permanent home, or it's determined that it's OK to place the children back in their homes," she said. "The one thing that remains constant in their lives is the CASA volunteer. We are committed to them and making sure there is a happy ending."

The volunteers regularly visit the children at their foster homes and other locations and ultimately make recommendations to judges about the safest place for them.

In one case, Mrs. Johnson logged 540 hours and drove more than 3,600 miles to make visits, go to court and advocate.

"I do whatever I can to make sure that children end up with a family that loves them and can give them a safe home," she said. "That's what this is all about."

For more information on Child Enrichment or the volunteers, visit www.childenrichment.org or call (706) 737-4631.

Reach Nikasha Dicks at (706) 823-3336 or nikasha.dicks@augustachronicle.com.

VOLUNTEER OF THE MONTH: MARLENE JOHNSON

ORGANIZATION: Child Enrichment Inc.

POSITION: Court-appointed special advocate

YEARS VOLUNTEERING: Five

NOMINATOR'S QUOTE: "She is one determined, professional volunteer. Yes, I mean that," wrote Dan Hillman, the executive director. "She has the highest standards and the greatest work ethic in advocating for children."

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