A program that helps mentor abused and neglected children in Erie County may have to shut its doors after the state cuts all of its funding. The CASA program got the news the same day as the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting. And volunteers say the timing couldn't have been worse.
BUFFALO, N.Y. — About 1,000 kids are in foster care in Erie County, and many of them were neglected or abused. But the same day of the horrific shooting in Connecticut, the CASA program, which helps these at risk children got a blow. The state was cutting its entire $60,000 budget.
"In the wake of this horrible situation in Connecticut, I've heard two things that have been said repeatedly in this country: we have to do a better job taking care of our children and we have to invest in mental health. Well, here we are," Ken Houseknecht, Executive Director of Erie County Mental Health Association, told YNN.
The money goes to pay two salaries and help run a program that includes 40 court-appointed volunteers who aim to show the child that someone cares.
"When we're trying to advocate for more volunteers at the same time, we find out that the budget is being totally illuminated. That just goes to my core," CASA volunteer Marilyn Ballard said, as she fought back the tears.
Aishah Rudolph spent her childhood in foster care. Her two brothers ended up in jail.
But she credits a volunteer for helping her go to college to become a social worker.
"Why keep making these kids feel like they're nothing, which makes them result in bad behavior and end up on the streets and end up in jail," Rudolph, a CASA Intern, said.
CASA is part of the Erie County Mental Health Association. It's a national program whose funding was cut state wide.
"You want to stop crime, but you take away good programs. I don't understand that," Rudolph said.
But there's still hope. Volunteers have vowed to try to raise the money and save the program they believe helps save lives.