Southeastern Indiana Voices for Children now has nine full-time staff working in Jefferson and Ripley counties. In November, after a swearing-in ceremony, the group posed together in the Ripley County Courthouse: (from left) Melissa Herzner, Pasqual Yung, Whitney Roberts, Megan Wilson, Tonya Ruble-Richter, Kimberly Courtney, Christy Anderson, Brenda Holbrook and Cori Dawson. (Submitted photo)
Southeastern Indiana Voices for Children now has nine full-time staff working in Jefferson and Ripley counties. In November, after a swearing-in ceremony, the group posed together in the Ripley County Courthouse: (from left) Melissa Herzner, Pasqual Yung, Whitney Roberts, Megan Wilson, Tonya Ruble-Richter, Kimberly Courtney, Christy Anderson, Brenda Holbrook and Cori Dawson. (Submitted photo)
Southeastern Indiana Voices for Children is celebrating more than the holidays this season. For the first time ever the non-profit organization serving Jefferson and Ripley counties has nine full-time staff members and is serving a record number of children between the two counties.

“It’s intimidating, but it’s exciting,” said Executive Director Tonya Ruble-Richter. “By this time next year, we will be serving every kid in both our counties.”

The organization also recently welcomed 15 new CASAs (court appointed special advocates) — eight of whom were sworn in by Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Darrell Auxier in early November.

Ruble-Richter explained that she and her team at Voices received hundreds of resumes when she first started hiring to reach full capacity. This response from potential employees was drastically different from the first time Ruble-Richter tried to fill a position at Voices in 2014.

“I didn’t get a single application,” said Ruble-Richter, recalling the situation. “And, I was like ‘What am I going to do?’”

She credits the change to a few different factors.

“More people know about us and more people know someone who is a CASA or is part of the staff here,” said Ruble-Richter. “And all the work we’ve done to increase our awareness and build our relationships with the communities we serve is working, but that doesn’t mean we can stop now.”

As Ruble-Richter and her team were interviewing applicants, they were looking for people who were passionate about the work — about serving the kids — who were also flexible to be able to handle the different situations that they all face at Voices each day. Ruble-Richter noted that each of the new hires has unique skill sets that she thinks will benefit the whole team.

The Voices staff now includes a program manager, program coordinators, volunteer coordinators, staff advocates and the executive director.

Voices was able to fill the roster with more full-time positions after receiving a $600,000 federal Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) grant in July. They designated some of the additional funds to create more salaried positions and to offer a health-care plan for their employees. The new staff members will allow Voices to manage more volunteers and more cases. The more cases they can assign a CASA to, the more children are being heard in court when decisions that often profoundly affect their lives are made.

“CASAs do so much more for these kids than people realize,” said Ruble-Richter. “And, sometimes they are the only ones who can or are willing to do something for them.”

She gave examples of a CASA who this Thanksgiving organized for a group of siblings to visit a foster family they had lived with previously for a few days — giving them some time away from the residential facility in which they now live.

Another CASA recently helped one of the kid’s they serve by going to a previous place of residence to retrieve a special blanket the child had left there after learning the child was having problems sleeping without it.

There are more than 70 volunteer CASAs working with Voices now, and Ruble-Richter expects there to be more than 100 soon. She and her staff have already scheduled another training session for early next year because of the interest in becoming a CASA in either Jefferson or Ripley counties. The dates are set for Jan. 25, Jan. 26, Feb. 1 and Feb. 2. The times and location are to be determined.

Ruble-Richter also estimates 160 kids will be assigned a CASA by the end of the year. Right now, they are serving a record 145 kids.

To learn more about Voices or becoming a CASA go to http://www.voicesforchildren.net or call 812-274-0877.

Courier staff writer Tali Hunt can be reached at thunt@madisoncourier.com or 812-265-3641

Tonight

The Heart of Christmas Benefit Concert at the Seventh-day Adventist Church on Bear Street in Madison will benefit Voices for Children this tonight at 5 p.m. Admission is free, but all donations will benefit the local nonprofit. For more information, call 812-704-8455.