McHenry County organizations tell residents how they can help children in wake of AJ's death

Organizations give tips on what to do to help local kids

In the wake of the death of Crystal Lake 5-year-old Andrew “AJ” Freund, whose parents were charged Wednesday with beating him and burying him in a shallow grave near Woodstock, several McHenry County organizations are receiving inquiries from residents on how they can make a difference in a child’s life.

Court Appointed

Special Advocates

Jorie Siemens, senior manager for Court Appointed Special Advocate of McHenry County, said she has received more than 25 inquiries since Wednesday on how to get involved as an advocate or host a fundraiser.

A special advocate is a volunteer appointed to a specific case by a juvenile court judge. Advocates are asked to visit their child at least twice a month and build a relationship with them so they can have a voice in court, Siemens said.

CASA offers three advocate training classes a year in which attendees learn about the factors that cause a case to end up in juvenile court; mental health and substance abuse issues; cultural diversity; and establishing a rapport with children they will be advocating for. The organization has 100 advocates with about 70 of them assisting in active juvenile cases. Training lasts for six weeks, for a total of 40 hours.

Siemens said the next certification class will begin next week, and another will begin in August. Siemens encourages anyone interested in volunteering to fill out an application online at casamchenrycounty.org.

For those unable to serve as an advocate, Siemens said there always are opportunities to volunteer at upcoming events.

Big Brothers Big Sisters

of McHenry County

Leslie Blake, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of McHenry County, said she also received a number of calls from residents wishing to help children.

“I just really hope that the community takes this as a wake-up call that there are more children in the community facing things that most of us can’t even fathom,” Blake said. “In my mind, the best way to honor AJ is to get out and volunteer or donate to make sure other children don’t face this type of tragedy.”

Blake said her organization serves about 500 children in the county but there is a waiting list of 46 children in need of volunteers.

“A caring adult can make all the difference,” Blake said.

After a thorough background check, volunteers can serve in two different capacities.

There is a community-based program where mentors can take their assigned child to different activities, and there is a lunchtime program where volunteers can mentor children once a week during their lunch hour. Blake said the lunchtime program is available in schools all over McHenry County.

“For some, that’s the easier way to start to volunteer,” she said. “It gives a more structured environment to mentor children.”

Volunteers may have certain goals to accomplish with their child, such as improving the child’s communication skills or helping with their school work, Blake said.

To volunteer or make a donation to Big Brothers Big Sisters of McHenry County, visit www.bbbsmchenry.org.

Mental health services

Scott Block, executive director of the McHenry County Mental Health Board, said the McHenry County Crisis Line can provide answers and support to help process feelings of anger and sorrow from this tragedy.

The 24-hour crisis intervention line can be reached at 800-892-8900.

It also can be accessed via text by downloading the MCHELP app from the Google Play Store or iTunes. The app also includes comprehensive mental health resources from the county and 211 social services information.

For information on mental health services, visit www.mc708.org.

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