I suspect it is not just academics whose working lives are ruined by the persistence of pointless meetings. As a sociologist, I fully understand that sometimes the point of a meeting is more subtle than what’s stated on the printed agenda; sometimes we meet merely to demonstrate the good will that comes from physically being in a room together. But I also know that studies have shown that Americans could cut their work day to 4 hours, working effectively only 6 months out of the year, and still have the same standard of living we had in 1948. I feel much of that wasted time in our work lives is taken up by meetings.
So a good and worthwhile meeting is worth noting. This Saturday I was up and headed to a 9:00 meeting here in Madison. It’s not rare for me to be up at 9:00, but rare to be walking around the streets of Madison in the dead of winter on a Saturday morning. It was a cold weekend and therefore, a quiet town. This Saturday morning, the sun was shining on the buildings in Madison, but the streets were so still that the only sound was the birds singing. And I have to say, I usually don’t hear birds singing on Main St. in Madison, but it’s a good way to start your day.
The meeting was for Southeastern Indiana Voices for Children, a nonprofit that’s probably more familiar to most people as CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates). Because that particular acronym (CASA) is already taken in Jefferson County, here we’re just Voices for Children. CASA programs across the country and here in Madison organize volunteers to be court advocates for children who become wards of the state due to abuse and neglect. The program started in 1977 when a juvenile court judge in Seattle became concerned about the drastic decisions to be made about children who were victims of abuse and neglect with insufficient information at hand. CASA volunteers are appointed to watch over and advocate for these abused and neglected children, making sure their interests are protected in our overburdened legal and social service system and that they don’t end up languishing in inappropriate group or foster homes. CASA volunteers are the last line of defense for abused and neglected children who have already been let down by their families and life circumstances that are beyond their own control.
To call the work of CASA volunteers intense is an understatement. Cases can last for years at a time as legal cases stretch out and the situation of children and their families morph and change. Volunteers must deal with parents who are often angry and living situations that look appalling to those of us lucky enough never to have been brushed by poverty. They negotiate with lawyers, law enforcement, teachers, pediatricians, and the Department of Child Services in order to try and understand what course of action is in the child’s best interests.
|Old City Hall in Madison|
The work of Voices for Children is a complicated mission, but an important one. For many abused and neglected children, their CASA volunteer is the one consistent adult presence in their lives. But as with many important social service agencies, funding for CASA programs is always precarious. Here in Madison, Voices for Children would like to raise money that would help them provide more support for the hard work done by their dedicated CASA volunteers.
Our meeting Saturday morning was to help educate the relatively new board members of Voices for Children and to help plan the Learn About Us lunch on this Thursday, January 19th from 11-1, at the Old City Hall building in Madison. There will be food, of course, and the opportunity to check out the beautiful offices in the refinished Old City Hall. The artwork in Old City Hall is all local images, so you might find, as I did, yourself looking at a painting of your own house in the bathroom. But you’ll also find out about the important work of Voices for Children volunteers. And that, unlike many of the things we do in the course of day, is an undeniably valuable use of your time.