YORKVILLE – Kendall County is leading the way when it comes to advocating for children and forging a path for troubled families to get back together.
CASA Kendall County has opened a special “clubhouse” where children in the foster care system may spend time with their parents in homelike surroundings.
The Court Appointed Special Advocate system is designed to protect children who have been neglected or worse.
With a $200,000 federal grant secured by U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Naperville, CASA Kendall County purchased the vintage 1870s house at 301 E. Van Emmon St. in downtown Yorkville.
The Yorkville, Montgomery, Oswego and Plano chambers of commerce hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony May 25 to celebrate the new clubhouse, which began operations late last year.
CASA Kendall County Executive Director Jennifer Gilbert told the crowd gathered in front of the house that the organization has created a facility for other CASA groups to emulate.
“I am so proud that CASA Kendall County is now able to provide the first-of-it’s-kind CASA Clubhouse to allow children and families to come together in a safe, comforting and joyful environment,” Gilbert said.
“This house will serve as a visitation space for children and siblings who have been separated as a result of entering the foster care system,” she said.
Speaking to the crowd, Underwood noted that before the opening of the clubhouse, CASA needed to arrange the court-ordered parental visits at local restaurants or other public spaces.
“Foster youth deserve private, comfortable, safe spaces,” Underwood said. “I am proud to secure funding for CASA of Kendall County to create the first dedicated space in our district to support the needs of the growing number of foster youth and families in our community.”
Gilbert, who oversees a paid staff and a cadre of volunteers, said renovations and furnishings for the house were donated by local businesses and residents.
The result, she said, is a warm, friendly space with all of the comforts of home.
Last year, CASA Kendall County was overseeing and advocating for 146 children, nearly triple the number from a couple of years earlier.
With many individual cases involving siblings, the actual caseload at any one time is about 80, Gilbert said.
Advocating for the children before a judge and working with the parents with the aim of reuniting the family are CASA’s volunteers.
The volunteers go through an extensive training course before being assigned a case, which they follow from start to finish.
Most cases take 18 months to three years before coming to a resolution in court, Gilbert said. Sometimes, families are reunited. Other times, the children are placed for adoption.
About 80% are cases of neglect stemming from mental health problems or substance abuse and addiction, Gilbert said.
CASA volunteers keep track as parents work through their problems. During the required parent-child visits, the volunteers maintain a low profile.
“The goal is to be in the background and let them be a family,” Gilbert said.
CASA continues to operate its headquarters from offices at the Kendall County Health Department, ensuring that families have the run of the house during visits.
“The house is a real-life tool to support our goal of reuniting and strengthening families while keeping the safety of our children always at the forefront, Gilbert said.
Clubhouse Director Jessica Klingren said families can watch a movie, play games or enjoy a home-cooked meal from the fully equipped kitchen.
Director of Development and Outreach Nikki Osterloh is in charge of fundraising activities and other efforts to promote CASA.
Director of Advocacy Amanda Kuter and advocate supervisor Laurie Patsch oversee about 70 volunteers who are directly involved in cases. Gilbert said CASA is recruiting more volunteers with the aim of bringing the total to 100.
Dependency case specialist Barb Duckworth oversees cases involving children who have mental health or disciplinary problems.
CASA board President Nicole Sartori heads up the nonprofit organization.
There was a large turnout for the ribbon-cutting event, particularly among top county law enforcement and judicial officials.
They included Kendall County State’s Attorney Eric Weis, Sheriff Dwight Baird and judges Stephen Krentz and Jody Gleason.
Other local political figures on hand were Kendall County Board Chairman Scott Gryder and board members Ruben Rodriguez and Scott Gengler, who serves on the CASA Board of Directors. Also present was state Rep. David Welter, R-Morris.
Oswego Trustees Jennifer Jones-Sinnott and Kit Kuhrt, along with Yorkville Alderman Jason Peterson, were part of the crowd.
Yorkville Police Chief Jim Jensen and several of his top-tier commanders kept a watchful eye on the proceedings.
Gilbert said that in addition to the federal money provided by Underwood, donations for the building’s rehabilitation and furnishing were critical.
During tours of the house, visitors observed an indoor children’s slide constructed by Patrick Morrey of Morrey’s Custom Concepts in Sandwich.
The architecturally distinctive house is sporting a refreshed paint job from A Royal Paint in Yorkville.