The new head of a local non-profit is hoping to increase the number of volunteers to advocate for children in local courts.
Paula Malmfeldt was chosen as the new executive director of CASA of Forsyth County, a local county-appointed child advocacy nonprofit organization, around the end of January.
“I’m very mission-driven, so I am driven to organizations with a good mission I can support.” Malmfeldt said, later adding: “CASA was an easy connection because, obviously, I have a passion for children and kids’ needs.”
CASA takes volunteers and, after training, assigns them as an advocate for children in court proceedings, particularly those in foster homes.
Malmfeldt has some experience with CASA. She said she first got involved with the group in 2006 as an advocacy case manager, which means she supported volunteers who did advocacy, until 2011.
“Frankly, when I first came to CASA, I didn’t completely understand the child welfare system,” she said. But, [I] learned to really embrace it and recognized there was a group of kids who need a voice, who through no fault of their own were all of a sudden involved in the juvenile courts system, where people were deciding their future and their fates, and they weren’t part of that discussion.”
She said she took some time off after 2011 and worked at Jesse’s House, a local nonprofit aimed at at-risk girls, and did non-advocacy volunteer work for CASA.
Malmfeldt returned to CASA in June 2017 to serve as director of community engagement, a new position at the organization
“CASA had grown to the point where we had so many kids [who] were coming into foster care that we had to be very intentional about recruiting volunteers,” she said. “It used to be that we could meet the needs of providing advocates for children in foster care just by whoever called … It’s now gotten to the point where we have to be really intentional with the recruitment.”
In November, she was asked to be interim executive director and was selected for the position full-time in January.
“I’m thrilled,” said volunteer Caitlin Ryan said of Malmfeldt’s new post. “She knows the community very well. She knows CASA very well. She was a case manager, [so] she knows what they’re going through. She can tell you anything about any case. She knows everybody. She knows all the volunteers, and when she doesn’t she makes a conscious effort to know you.”
As executive director, Malmfeldt said she wanted to increase the number of volunteers, who must go through seven weeks of training, get courtroom experience and classes to be sworn in as an advocate who has to deal with experienced judges, caseworkers and attorneys.
“All of a sudden, I’m bringing in a volunteer who has no background in any of that and I’m helping them be proficient and credible and make recommendations that can impact the child’s life forever,” Malmfeldt said.
Currently, there are about 100 such volunteers, though Malmfeldt said she hoped that would increase after a new round of training starts on April 9.
Malmfeldt said, in addition to advocates, the group is also looking for people to spread their message, which could get other volunteers involved, and to help with fundraising.
Those interested in volunteering with the group can go to ForsythCountyCASA.org or contact Malmfeldt at 770-886-4082 or firstname.lastname@example.org.