University Students Speak Up for Children

El Paso CASA has a new source of enthusiastic volunteers: pre-law students from the University of Texas-El Paso.

According to CASA Executive Director Lisa Saucedo, the idea for the partnership began with a discussion on collaboration between her and Professor Lisa Soto of the Law School Preparation Institute at UTEP. Professor Soto hatched the plan for the program, a win-win for the two organizations: The pre-law students would gain experience in the workings of the family court system, and the CASA program could serve more children.

To make the plan a reality, Saucedo continued networking in the community to garner local support. She arranged for Professor Soto to fly to Austin and meet with representatives of Texas CASA and a representative of the Children’s Rights Clinic, who provided input into the program planning.

In June 2010, the CASA program began recruiting students; on-campus training started in August. Like all CASA volunteers, the pre-law students are screened and undergo 30 hours of pre-service training. Nancy Ellis of CASA coordinated the training and Professor Soto linked it to a service-learning class she teaches at UTEP on children’s rights law and advocacy.

Today, the pilot class of 10 students is currently working on cases in teams of two and three. Each team works on one case, advocating for several children. Students receive course credit toward their degrees along with very valuable experience with law and the judicial process as well as taking part in the nuts and bolts of a social justice enterprise. The students unanimously report that their work with CASA has enriched their lives and been very valuable to their educational development.

Staff at UTEP and the CASA program are impressed with the students’ skills and enthusiasm. El Paso Judge Oscar Gabaldon shared his experience in an article in the El Paso Times.

"They have done an excellent job of representing the children. I was very excited when I first was approached with the proposal to incorporate the UTEP pre-law students into the CASA program."

Saucedo is currently working with UTEP to apply for joint funding—which would cover half of the salary of a volunteer supervisor and half of the salary for a coordinator at UTEP—to continue the work of the pilot program. They also hope to expand the program to include students from other disciplines as well.

For more information about the pilot, email Professor Lisa Soto or Lisa Saucedo


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