As abused or neglected children are whisked away from their home, they often only have a grocery bag full of items to take with them.

They don’t really have much of anything to call their own.

Local independent consultants of the children’s book publisher Usborne Books & More realized that and felt called to do something to benefit children represented by Jackson County Guardian Ad Litem/Court Appointed Special Advocates.

Through the “Whatif … you could help a child?” project, 210 sets of Michelle Nelson-Schmidt’s book “Jonathan James and the Whatif Monster” and a plush toy monster that supplements the book will be distributed to the children.

The consultants, Peggy Stark, Linda Kamman and Shane Bode, hope the book and toy help the children going through a difficult time in their lives.

Deena Personett, program director for Jackson County GAL/CASA, said the children’s advocates have been anxiously awaiting the arrival of the books and toys so they can hand them out.

“It will be good to hear those stories about what this meant to those kids and what the kids say about it coming back,” she said. “That’s the story that will continue.”

Stark said they received a Literacy for a Lifetime grant, and then from donations they collected from the community, Usborne gave an additional 50 percent.

Nearly $2,000 was raised, resulting in almost $3,000 available to purchase the books and toys, which cost $13.50 per set.

As the three consultants asked for donations during a week in July, they presented a flier with information about GAL/CASA and the book project.

Some donors were familiar with GAL/CASA, while others didn’t know about it.

“(It was an) experience to be able to give them the brochure and say, ‘Do you know about what’s going on within your community?'” Bode said. “Then hopefully, some people might be interested in becoming an advocate. Our other goal was to get the word out.”

Stark said it was great to see people support the effort.

“It really did bring me great joy to talk about it and have other people respond so favorably because there are so many people out there that really do want to do something, they just don’t know how they can help, so it was a nice outlet for them to also give,” she said.

Nelson-Schmidt travels all over the United States to share the message of persistence and hard work can overcome almost any obstacle.

Late last year, she did presentations at Seymour Community Schools, St. Ambrose Catholic School and Medora Elementary School in Jackson County and Brush Creek Elementary School in Jennings County.

“The kids were familiar with the books, but a lot of times, the kids that needed the books, they couldn’t purchase one,” Stark said.

Kamman said they then had an idea for a community service project.

“We thought CASA was a really worthy cause,” she said.

Being a retired teacher, Stark said she has seen children go into the GAL/CASA program and knows its importance.

“I know how important CASA is to them and to get as much support as possible,” she said. “We feel like this book, it’s about overcoming your worries and your fears, and the little worry monster, when they go to bed at night, they can give all of their worries and their fears to the monster and rest in peace and not worry about what’s going to happen.”

Personett said the children will be able to relate to the book and understand how GAL/CASA will impact them.

“It gives them something and encourages them at the same time,” she said. “Something good does come out of this, whichever direction the kids go. That’s what I always tell any prospective volunteer: Our beginnings, our stories are sad ones, but the endings are always happy.”

Jackson County GAL/CASA is serving 212 children, and all of them will receive a book and a toy.

Kamman said they will keep raising money to supply the books and toys to children added to the program, perhaps expanding it to Jennings and Bartholomew counties. Donations are tax-deductible.

“We have a wait list of children waiting for an advocate,” Personett said. “Some of the kids get reunified or find a happy ending before we actually get involved, before an advocate gets involved.”

Advocates typically follow one case, but it could involve several children in one family, she said.

“Some volunteers, depending on how much time they have to donate, will do multiple cases at a time,” she said.

Personett has received a few more donations since the books and toys came in, and they will put in another order.

“You wish there wasn’t a need, but there is,” she said. “You just don’t like to think in a community our size that there is abuse and neglect, but there is.”

At a glance

The “Whatif … you could help a child?” project provides a copy of Michelle Nelson-Schmidt’s book “Jonathan James and the Whatif Monster” and a plush toy monster to children involved in the Jackson County Guardian Ad Litem/Court Appointed Special Advocates program.

A $100 donation will buy 7½ sets, $50 will buy 3¾ sets and $27 will buy two sets. A $1,000 corporate donation would buy 75 sets, $500 would buy 37½ sets and $100 would buy 7½ sets.

Donations, which are tax-deductible, should be made payable to Jackson County GAL/CASA, 113 N. Chestnut St., Seymour, IN 47274.

For information or to start a campaign, email whatifyoucouldhelpachild@gmail.com.

At a glance

The Jackson County Guardian Ad Litem/Court Appointed Special Advocates program works to protect abused and neglected children in the county.

The program has been in Jackson County since 1990 when it was a part of Court Appointed Special Advocates of South Central Indiana.

Although those who serve as court-appointed special advocates are volunteers, the program requires funding for training and staff to ensure children remain at the forefront of court proceedings. The goal is to find safe, permanent housing for children as quickly as possible.

Program director Deena Personett said in 2011, there were 74 children who were new victims of abuse and neglect. Now, the caseload is nearly 220 children.

A total of 90 percent of those kids come from families with parents who suffer from substance abuse, most commonly heroin or methamphetamine.

Primary funding for the program, which is mandated by the courts, comes from the Jackson County Council and the Indiana Supreme Court with additional grants, donations and fundraisers.

Information: Call 812-569-2598 or visit childcarenetworkinc.org/ccn—jackson-county-galcasa.html

Author photo
Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at zspicer@tribtown.com or 812-523-7080.