Webster’s Dictionary defines a New Year’s resolution as “a promise to do something differently in the new year." Every year around the holidays, people start thinking about the new year and resolutions they want to make. We resolve to stop smoking, lose weight, exercise more, give up fast food or sweets, get organized or learn a new hobby — things we hope will improve our lives.

Why not choose a resolution sure to improve your life and the life of a child? I’m suggesting that you resolve to volunteer in your community. Volunteering is a win-win resolution. Evidence shows that people who regularly volunteer have higher levels of well-being and life satisfaction with lower rates of depression. It connects you to others while providing a sense of purpose. Volunteers help create and support healthy, stronger communities. Many who volunteer say they enjoy making a difference in someone’s life. Volunteering also sets a good example for your children — when they see their parents giving their time to help others they are likely to do the same. As someone who was raised by parents who gave their time and skills to various church and civic organizations, I can say I try to follow their example in my own life, as does my daughter.

You could really make a difference in the life of a child who has been abused or neglected by their parents or guardian and placed into the foster care system, through no fault of their own, by resolving to volunteer with CASA Connection. CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates. CASA Connection is the local CASA program, serving Platte and Colfax counties. CASA Connection is part of a nationwide program affiliated with the Nebraska CASA and National CASA associations.

We need volunteers to donate time and energy for these children. Appointed by family court judges, CASA volunteers typically handle one case or one string of siblings at a time until the child is placed in a safe, permanent home. Other people may come and go in the child’s life, but their CASA volunteer provides a constant presence the child needs to help them move through this difficult and sometimes scary time in their life.

In many cases the CASA volunteer is the only constant figure in these kids’ lives during their time in foster care. As a court-appointed special advocate, volunteers receive in-depth training and continued support. These volunteers report to the court in the best interest of the child.

We encourage people from all cultures, professions and ethnic and educational backgrounds to volunteer. Our volunteers come from all walks of life and have one thing in common: they care about children. The requirements to be a volunteer are simple: you must be at least 21 years old, pass the background checks, provide references and participate in an interview. No special background or education is required. CASA volunteers complete a 30-hour preservice training provided by the CASA Connection staff, then are sworn in by the juvenile court judge before being assigned to a case.

Once they are assigned, they can expect to spend an average of six to 10 hours working on a case. Volunteers will get to know the child while gathering information, exploring resources to meet the child’s needs and writing reports with recommendations. Volunteers receive ongoing education and support from their local program as well as from the state and national CASA associations.

Becoming an advocate for foster children will be the most-rewarding resolution you can make for this year, or any year.

To learn more about how you can make a difference in the life of an abused or neglected child, contact Susie or Lisa at CASA Connection at 402-563-4944 or email casacoord@gmail.com.

Lisa Rosendahl is outreach coordinator for CASA Connection.