Sara Walraven, director of the CASA Clubhouse. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

To read this story, please sign in with your email address and password.

You've read all your free stories this month. Subscribe now and unlock unlimited access to our stories, exclusive subscriber content, additional newsletters, invitations to special events, and more.


Not even a year old, the new CASA Clubhouse is serving more kids in foster care and providing more types of services than its creators ever imagined.

The CASA Clubhouse is located at 627 N. Glenstone Ave. and opened in July of 2023. It is the first of its kind in Missouri and the third CASA Clubhouse in the nation. CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates. CASA of Southwest Missouri provides volunteers who meet with children who have fallen into the Missouri court system, create bonds of trust and advocate for children in court.

In its first six months, the Clubhouse in Springfield served about 850 foster kids.

“I knew the need was great, but the amount of children that have used our facility already in the short amount of time that we’ve been open in a year,” said Laura Farmer, executive director of CASA of Southwest Missouri, “that has been the most surprising and, I think, inspiring thing in a lot of ways to me.

“And just the feedback we get from our families, the feedback that we get from our kiddos,” Farmer continued. “They absolutely love this place. They come here one time and they’re uncertain about what it is. And then they want to keep coming back.”

What is CASA of Southwest Missouri?

Court Appointed Special Advocates of Southwest Missouri — better known as CASA — is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to recruit, train and support community volunteers who assist the court in protecting the best interests of children and teens in foster care in Greene, Christian and Taney counties.

CASA volunteers are vetted, trained and then matched with a child or sibling group in foster care to spend time with the child, get to know them and their family situation and then advocate for them in family court. CASAs generally spend 4-5 hours a month with their child or sibling groups and also attend court hearings.

The Risdal Family Clubhouse was part of CASA of Southwest Missouri’s 2022 campaign to create a new headquarters on the southwest corner of Chestnut Expressway and Glenstone Avenue, in buildings formerly occupied by the Council of Churches of the Ozarks. The Clubhouse is located just feet away from CASA’s new administration building.

The media room for older users of the services at CASA Clubhouse features, video games and age-appropriate movies. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

The Clubhouse offers private spaces for CASA visits and meetings between advocates and foster children. It has visitation rooms for foster kids and their biological families that have adjoining observation spaces for supervision, as well as a large kitchen for family meals or cooking lessons for older children. There's a room with tables for games, puzzles and crafts, as well as a media room for game play.

When it first opened, the Clubhouse offered services to children in foster care who were matched with a CASA volunteer.

However, there are currently about 1,300 children in foster care in Greene, Christian and Taney counties. Of those kids, only about 460 are being served by the CASA volunteer program due to a need for more volunteers.

Because there are so many foster kids still waiting for a CASA, administrators soon decided to open the Clubhouse to all kids in foster care.

“We don’t have enough CASAs for every kid and we want to help all the kids as much as we can who are in foster care,” said Sara Walraven, director of the CASA Clubhouse.

The Clubhouse went from hosting maybe four or five family visits a day during the first month it was opened to now hosting as many as 40-50 visits a day.

This is in the Family club house at CASA's new facility that opened its doors on May 23, 2023. (Photo by Shannon Cay)

Community partners offer a variety of educational opportunities to foster kids and families at the Clubhouse. For example, the University of Missouri Extension Office offers cooking classes on a range of topics and for teens and young children. Central Bank offers its ProsperU budgeting and financial literacy classes.

Staff members from the Springfield-Greene County Library District come to the Clubhouse once a month to rotate books and craft kits. As it turns out, those craft kits have turned out to be a favorite activity for parents working to be reunified with their children in foster care.

Library’s craft kits help parents, children reconnect

One on the new partnerships happening at the Clubhouse is with Family Treatment Court.

Family Treatment Court is a voluntary specialized court program that works with parents and children who are involved with the Greene County Children’s Division (CD) as a result of child abuse or neglect directly related to parental substance abuse.

Part of the Family Treatment Court program includes completing a 12-week curriculum called Celebrating Families, which is being offered at the CASA Clubhouse.

“The parents and the children come together. They do some family activities, and then they separate where the kiddos get to do some activities here in the Clubhouse,” Farmer explained. “And then the parents get their substance abuse treatment and support. And then they come back for a family meal.

Laura Farmer, executive director of CASA. Photographed in Springfield, MO on Tuesday April 9, 2024. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

“All of that’s happening here at the Clubhouse,” she said. “Those craft kits are so helpful, especially for our parents who are, you know, maybe they’re parenting sober for the first time and they really don’t know how to engage with kids. They can be nervous about it. (The craft kits) are like, ‘Here’s the steps. Here’s what you do.’ And it just helps to kind of break the ice and build that connection that needs to be rebuilt.”

A kinder entry into foster care

Before the Clubhouse opened, children coming into foster care in Greene County were first brought to the Children’s Division offices on the square in downtown Springfield, where they might be stuck in a small, uninviting room for hours as a case worker tried to find a foster home placement for them. Because kids are often removed from homes in the middle of the night, walking through downtown Springfield into a high-rise building can be pretty scary for children.

But now, the intake process can be done at the Clubhouse, where children can shower and their clothes can be laundered. They can eat a hot meal and play video games, read or rest.

If a child comes into care at night, Children’s Division caseworkers are allowed to use the Clubhouse after hours.

Birthday parties among the most surprising benefits

The CASA Clubhouse is also a safe, neutral — and fun — space where families can celebrate birthdays of children in foster care.

Esther Munch, CASA’s director of development, described birthday parties as “one of the most meaningful things” she’s witnessed at the Clubhouse.

“We’ve got kiddos in foster care that don’t have a place or the funds to have a birthday party,” Munch said. “I’ve walked back there in that kitchen and there was a one-year-old playing in a cake.”

A room at the CASA Clubhouse is set aside for new items to be given to clients to celebrate birthdays, help prepare a teen for a first apartment or simply to cheer someone up who nee a lift. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

Munch recalled the kitchen being filled with people whom she didn’t know — she wasn’t sure if they were biological parents, case workers, CASA volunteers or foster parents.

“But they had all come together,” Munch said. “And this was the only place they could find to do that birthday party.”

Farmer agreed, saying she had no idea there was so much need and desire for a “neutral” site to host birthday parties.

“So that has been really exciting to see,” Farmer said. “Because when we were envisioning this, really that wasn't necessarily something that had crossed my mind.

“The foster family can be present. The biological family can be present,” Farmer said. “It's a neutral site where everyone can be welcomed — everyone who loves that child and wants to be there and the folks that the kid wants to be there.”

A room at the CASA Clubhouse is set aside for new items to be given to clients to celebrate birthdays, help prepare a teen for a first apartment or simply to cheer someone up who needs a lift. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

The Clubhouse has a “Kid’s Closet,” which is stocked with clothes, toys, and hygiene products, among other items.

When a child is having a birthday party, they get to “go shopping” for their birthday and pick out a brand new item at no cost to the family.

CASA volunteer: ‘My heart is in this work’

When the Hauxeda visited the CASA Clubhouse in April 2024, Tara Holcomb was manning the front desk. She said she volunteers at the Clubhouse about four hours a week.

Holcomb said she especially loves seeing foster children and their biological parents come to the Clubhouse and use the kitchen to make dinner together and then sit down and have a meal — like they would experience at home.

Tara Holcomb has been a CASA volunteer for almost seven years. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

Holcomb got her start with the organization about seven years ago as a CASA advocate for a child in foster care. After a couple years, the child was reunified with her birth mother. Holcomb volunteered to be a CASA advocate for another foster child. This second child’s experience with the foster care system did not have a similar happy ending. The child’s biological mother died before they could be reunited.

Holcomb explained that she loves being a CASA advocate for foster children and would have been willing to take on a third child or sibling group, but she is finishing up her master’s degree work. Volunteering at the Clubhouse allows her to continue to support CASA and children in foster care, while having time to focus on her studies.

Holcomb is majoring in social work. She said she truly respects and appreciates the work the parents who come to the Clubhouse are putting toward being reunified with their children.

Books and toys are available for younger users of the services at CASA Clubhouse. Books are provided by the Springfield Public Library system. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

“I look at these families here and they show up, you know? They’re showing up every week to get their children back, to do everything that they need to do to get their children back,” Holcomb said. “Being a parent, of course, is very hard. But (the parents with children in foster care) have to come in here and you have people watching you. You have a parent aide in the corner watching you try to be the best parent. You almost have to be better than a regular parent because someone is watching you the whole time.

“I love this organization. My heart is in this work,” she added. “I believe in this program. I believe in the Clubhouse. When I saw that they were building this Clubhouse, I was like, ‘I have to help in some way.’”

How to get involved

CASA of Southwest Missouri needs volunteers to serve as advocates for children in the foster care system. CASAs complete 30 hours of training (15 hours in classroom, 15 hours online) and volunteers learn what it means to be a CASA, about the court and child welfare system and how to connect with a youth who has been traumatized. CASAs are assigned to one foster care case, either an individual child or siblings. CASAs visit with their child at least twice a month and attend Family Support Team meetings and court hearings. To learn more about becoming a CASA, visit or call 417-864-6202.

There is an urgent need for foster families and for families who are interested in providing respite care for kids in foster care, Farmer said. Respite care would be providing weekend care or temporary care for the child when their foster parents are going out of town or just needing a break. To learn more about this, call the Children’s Division at 573-522-1191 or email

Foster Adopt Connect is a nonprofit organization that offers multiple programs to serve foster families, foster children and youth who are aging out of the system. Foster Adopt Connect is also home to Sammy’s Window, a clothing, hygiene products and food pantry for foster families and young people who recently aged out of foster care. To learn about the many ways to support this organization, visit

Jackie Rehwald

Jackie Rehwald is a reporter at the Hauxeda. She covers public safety, the courts, homelessness, domestic violence and other social issues. Her office line is 417-837-3659. More by Jackie Rehwald