When a child first gets a CASA/GAL volunteer, they may have a lot of questions. They may already have a bunch of unanswered questions about their situation, too. Now, CASA/GAL volunteers have a new tool that can help children better understand what’s going on: “Oscar’s Family” is a new children’s book that introduces the concept of a CASA/GAL volunteer in words kids understand. And along the way, it teaches them just how expansive the word “family” can be!
The 36-page color picture book was written by Melynda Jamison, Executive Director of CASA of Lexington in central Kentucky; and illustrated by Matthew Walden, a graphic design artist living in Lexington. “’Oscar’s Family’ makes CASA relatable even to very young kids. At the same time, the focus is on understanding what it means to be part of a family, which makes it a fun read for any child, whether they are involved in the family court system or not,” Jamison said. “This book teaches children that all families look different — and that’s a good thing! It’s such an important message for them to get and hopefully this book helps spread that message — and awareness of CASA — far and wide.”
Walden, who has also created numerous superheroes for CASA of Lexington’s CASA Superhero Run fundraiser, created the colorful, imaginative art that brings “Oscar’s Family” to life. “Telling the visual side of ‘Oscar’s Family’ was an exciting opportunity, because I was given much freedom with style, colors, and design, as well as the interpretations of characters and the emotions underlying their words and actions,” Walden said. “Illustrating ‘Oscar’s Family’ was also an opportunity to use my time and talents to help put something good into the world, to add beauty that might enrich the lives of others and inspire them to think in new ways about what love and family mean. It’s my own way to join in the kind of work which CASA does so well.”
The book tells the story of Oscar, a young school-aged boy who has foster parents and a “first mom,” his biological mother. At school, Oscar and his classmates all draw pictures of their families, which leads Oscar to talk with his foster mom about who is in his family. Oscar discovers he has a lot more people in his family than he thought, including his CASA/GAL volunteer, Liz, and her courthouse facility dog, Matilda.
While all the other characters are fictional, Liz and Matilda are both real-life members of the CASA of Lexington staff — Liz Noffsinger is a Volunteer Manager and Canine Handler and Matilda is Kentucky’s only certified courthouse facility dog, now in her fourth year of service.
“Matilda has helped countless Kentucky children, whether they have CASA volunteers or not,” Noffsinger said. “She has traveled all over the state, helping kids testify in court and going on home visits to help put children at ease. Matilda is a helper at heart, and now she gets to help every kid who reads 'Oscar’s Family!’”
Jamison said she hopes “Oscar’s Family” can help CASA/GAL volunteers and the children they serve across the U.S. “The CASA volunteer is there to get to know the child and advocate for their best interests. This book can help the child get to know their CASA volunteer a little better, which can make the volunteer’s job that much easier,” she said. “I hope ‘Oscar’s Family’ can build connections for CASA volunteers everywhere and help them be even more effective.”
All proceeds from sales of “Oscar’s Family” will benefit CASA of Lexington in its mission to ensure all children in central Kentucky have a safe, permanent home. CASA of Lexington is on Facebook and Instagram as @CASAofLexington. Walden is on Instagram as @mdaileywalden.