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Be the Difference to a Child Who Needs You Most: Volunteer

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By The Honorable Judge Glenda Hatchett

Before becoming a judge on a television court show, I served as a juvenile court judge in Atlanta. I dealt with many types of cases -- some were terrible accounts of crime and assault, while others were petty offenses.

But the cases that dealt with horrifying accounts of abuse and neglect were some of the most difficult and memorable cases I heard during my time on the juvenile court bench. These children were forced into the legal system by no fault of their own just because they were unable to live safely at home.

The children in these cases desperately needed caring members of the community who were willing to reach to the bottom of their hearts to help a child in need. People mistakenly think that, short of becoming a social worker or lawyer, there is little they can do to make a difference.

Thankfully, this is not true! In my experience as a juvenile court judge, I’ve been exposed to a number of wonderful volunteer organizations whose sole purpose is to help children in need. From mentors to tutors to child advocates, I’ve seen how volunteers can have a dramatic impact on children who need them most.

One of the most remarkable programs I encountered is the Court Appointed Special Advocate, or CASA, organization. In some states the volunteers are known as volunteer guardian ad litems, too. As a judge, I often found myself forced to make life-impacting decisions based on little background information about the child’s situation.

Although the social workers and lawyers presented their best recommendations for the children, sometimes I had the sense that these overworked officers of the court didn’t have the hours necessary to discover the safest home for an abused child.

With CASA, I found a solution. CASA volunteers are part of a nationwide organization that trains community volunteers to speak for abused and neglected children in court. They find out all the details they can about a child’s situation by talking to everyone who can give insight: parents, social workers, family members, teachers and, of course, the children themselves.

The program solves the very problem I was most troubled by as a judge: that of not having sufficient information about the child and his or her situation. CASA is just one example of how giving a little extra time can make a lifetime of difference to a child.

Whether you have 100 hours per month or just one hour per week, if you’re ready to make a lasting difference in the life of a child, I encourage you to explore a volunteer organization that’s right for you. The time invested in a child is time invested in our future. For more information on volunteer opportunities, visit volunteermatch.org.

Judge Glenda Hatchett is presiding jurist of the syndicated television show, “Judge Hatchett,” and author of “Say What you Mean and Mean What You Say!”

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