BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Being a volunteer for the Capital Area CASA Association means impacting lives you never dreamed of reaching.
"I walked in here thinking it would just be talking to kids, talking to their parents and it ended up being a lot more than that," said Yazan Rantisi who has been volunteering with CASA for a year. "It's been rewarding. I can tell I've been a positive influence in these cases."
For Rantisi, it also means you're the voice of a child in the East Baton Rouge Parish foster care system who's either been abused or neglected.
"At first, it's pretty daunting because it's some pretty serious stuff that's going on, but in the end, we're helping this case move on. We're helping results happen," she said.
Rantisi is just one of about 180 casa volunteers, but this non-profit needs over 100 more to be a true advocate for children in the courtroom. Right now, CASA serves around 300 children.
Although CASA is looking to increase their overall volunteer headcount, they need more African American males in the organization.
"We like to have a diverse group of volunteers, to match our diverse group of children that we're serving," said recruitment coordinator Erin Fulbright. "Right now, we have about 72 percent of our children are African American but only 41-42 percent of our volunteers are African American."
Fulbright said volunteers go through a rigorous training course. She said the volunteers must be at least be 21 years old, pass a background check, an in-depth application process, and go through an interview.
Once selected, volunteers must go through an intense 32-hour training course to prepare them for the journey ahead. The next course will be offered September 11.
"It opens your eyes to be open when you go in and to understand their point of view, to listen and not judge," Fulbright said. "Also, to understand what these children are going through, what the family is going through and how you can help."
Once assigned a case, volunteers get to know the child, the child's teacher, and any family member heavily involved in their life, then give one of two juvenile judges in EBR an informed decision on whether the child should be at home or in foster care.
"We're the voice of the court. We listen to both sides, we observe from points of views and were writing that for the judge," Fulbright said.
"At the end it is rewarding," Rantisi said. "It makes you feel good, it makes you see something positive and they thank you. Everybody thanks you. You can see the kids are in a better place because you were there."
When all is said and done, volunteers said being a listening ear for the children lets them know someone has their best interest in mind.
"Every day it feels like that voice is more powerful than I thought," Rantisi said. "Repeating what they say, giving it to the people that need to hear it; be it their lawyer, the judge or parents, it's powerful."