There is an epidemic in our country, in our state, and yes, even in our own county. An epidemic that, last year, affected 444 confirmed child victims in Ellis County and 66,721 children in Texas. This is the number of innocent children who were victims of abused and neglect at the hands of the ones they loved and trusted.

While the numbers are daunting, this is not a hopeless battle. Today, there are 61 volunteers with CASA of Ellis County, who are dedicated members of our community taking a stand and making a difference in the lives of these vulnerable children. These extraordinary people are known as Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA volunteers. The week of April 10-16 is National Volunteer Week, and not only am I asking you to thank these wonderful volunteers, I am asking you to join them.

It is our obligation as a community to be these children’s voices to ensure they get proper care while they are in the foster care system so that they may live safe, happy lives – breaking the cycle of abuse. You can do your part by taking the first step towards becoming a CASA volunteer.

CASA volunteers are individuals from all walks of life who speak up for a child or sibling group’s best interests while they are in state care. They get to know their assigned child and speak with everyone involved in that child’s life, including family members, foster parents and teachers, so that they can represent the child’s best interests in court and other settings until the child reaches a safe, permanent home.

While Ellis County is fortunate to have an exceptional CPS staff, across our state, children are often bounced from placement to placement in a broken system, too many slipping through the cracks, never finding the stability they need to grow and thrive. Because CASA volunteers are assigned to only one child or sibling group, they are better able to gain the child’s trust and focus on ensuring their emotional, physical and educational needs are met while they are in care. Often, CASA volunteers are the only constant person in the child’s life as they are moved through the state’s child protection system.

In his presidential proclamation for National Volunteer Week 2016, President Obama urges us to “…shed the cynicism that says one person cannot make a difference in the lives of others by embracing each of our individual responsibilities to serve and shape a brighter future for all.” You have the power to help build a brighter future for children in the foster care system by becoming a CASA volunteer and giving these vulnerable children a chance at happiness.

We want every abused child in Ellis County to have a CASA volunteer, to have someone speak up for them, because every child deserves a chance – and that chance could be you. Will you join us?

Call 972-937-1455 or visit www.casaofelliscounty.org for more information.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. If you see abuse, report it to 1 (800) 252-5400 or go to www.txabusehotline.org. If a child’s life is in danger, call 911. If you want to leave a legacy of positive change, become a CASA volunteer.

Rhodie Rawls is Executive Director of CASA of Ellis County, which recruits, trains and supports volunteers to advocate for abused and neglected children in Ellis County.