Karen Schaefer, CASA of Butte, Glenn, Shasta, and Tehama Counties
Vivacious and personable, Karen Schaefer has been in social services since 1999. She now serves as the Regional Program Director for CASA of Butte, Glenn, Shasta, and Tehama Counties. Karen has spent a total of 18 years within the CASA programs’ umbrella organization, Northern Valley Catholic Social Service, Inc. (NVCSS), first working with pregnant and parenting teens, homeless families, mentally ill homeless, and managing an Independent Living Program for foster youth. As Karen shared, the challenges foster youth face have always “pulled on the heart strings”, so it’s no surprise that she would go on to grow existing CASA programs and establish a new one, in Tehama County, in 2014.
Karen and the CASA programs she leads are resilient and resourceful, and make great use of their modest budget. Staff manage the CASA volunteers in Glenn and Tehama Counties, and use the peer coordinator model in Shasta and Butte Counties. The peer coordinator model, favored by many CASA programs, enlists seasoned CASA volunteers to supervise fellow volunteers and help guide them in their volunteer service. The programs have a total of 14 peer coordinators.
Thanks to recent funding from the Victim of Crimes Act (VOCA), Karen and her team were able to hire an Outreach Coordinator, whose work has resulted in a marked increase in volunteer inquiries and volunteers trained. In fact, they’re swearing in 19 new CASA volunteers in late May, taking the total number of CASA volunteers between the four programs to 132.
The influx of volunteers comes at a time when the number of children brought into foster care is rapidly growing. “The numbers are growing in the area,” said Karen, “there’s a higher percentage of drug use and the heroin epidemic is hitting us hard. In Shasta County, for example, we would have 15-40 children coming into dependency (foster care) each month, and now the average is 40-60 children. And, in Tehama County, the average number of children in dependency annually was 220 and now that’s up to 350.”
Karen Schafer’s decision to devote her career to those most vulnerable reflects her upbringing; her parents’ encouragement to help others. “These children are in foster care at no fault of their own, and if I can do something to make a difference in a kid’s life, that’s what I should be doing.” Karen’s passion for helping others is well known in her community, and the program’s renown continues to grow, thanks, in part, to the annual Super Hero Run. The fundraiser hosted 1,500 “Super Hero” runners last year, between the two runs held in Chico and Redding. We know that for Karen Schaefer and her team, the challenges ahead require the planned pace of a marathon runner, but that they will continue to grow, persevere, and give more foster youth in their region the much-needed advocacy CASA volunteers provide.