I DON’T know this for sure (because I’m on the inside looking out), but I suspect the Business & Industry Association of New Hampshire’s reputation among elected and appointed state policy leaders depends upon their perspective of, and experience with, business.

While BIA is fiercely nonpartisan, we nevertheless view public policy issues through the lens of employers. If a proposed new state law or regulation assists employers’ ability to create new jobs and preserve existing ones, BIA will likely support it. If the proposed state law or regulation is counterproductive to new job creation and job preservation, BIA will try to change it or fix it, or if need be, kill it. Our members expect us to carry out our mission — to promote a healthy climate for job creation and robust economic future for New Hampshire — and we do.

We’ve been engaged in this work since 1913 and gained supporters and detractors along the way. I’d like to think BIA presents forceful, thoughtful arguments in our advocacy work on behalf of business, and that we’re respectful and professional in the process.

Whatever the case, the fact is anytime a membership advocacy enterprise like BIA takes a position on a public policy matter, we generate followers and critics. It comes with the territory.

Given our work “mixing it up” in the state public policy arena, I’m pleased to share a softer, gentler side of BIA. BIA is teaming up with Court Appointed Special Advocates of New Hampshire to raise awareness of its important work, encourage BIA members to volunteer as guardians ad litem, and otherwise support CASA of NH.

For example, we intend to feature CASA of NH success stories in BIA member communications, provide exposure on our web site, and afford display space at our events.

CASA of NH is a statewide nonprofit that recruits, trains and supervises volunteers to advocate in New Hampshire’s courts on behalf of abused and neglected children. A “guardian ad litem” (GAL) is a person the court appoints, usually through CASA of NH, to investigate solutions that “would be in the best interests of a child.” The goal of CASA of NH and its volunteer advocates is to help children caught up in the court system, through no fault of their own, grow up in safe, permanent homes with loving families to raise them.

State law requires that children who’ve come to the attention of New Hampshire’s family courts as a result of abuse or neglect by a parent or caregiver be appointed a GAL to represent their best interests in legal proceedings. Before CASA of NH was founded in 1989 by President and CEO Marty Sink, all children were appointed a paid guardian ad litem. Parents in these cases were represented by an attorney appointed to them by the state, or one hired with their own resources. The state was represented by a staff attorney.

Unfortunately, the caseloads for paid GALs were so high they had little or no chance to get to know the child and his or her needs before making recommendations before a judge that would profoundly impact the child’s future. The one person speaking for the child wasn’t always able to provide the judge with the same vigor or knowledge as the parents or state.

Through Marty Sink’s remarkable efforts, kids now have a CASA of NH volunteer advocate who is focused on them. The volunteer advocate becomes an expert about the child’s needs and makes unbiased recommendations to the judge. As a CASA of NH volunteer myself, I can tell you guardian ad litem work is meaningful. The infant (now a toddler) whose best interests I’ve been responsible for can’t speak for himself. Even if he could, even if he was older, a teenager for example, he wouldn’t have the experience or emotional maturity to successfully navigate the turbulent waters of his situation, nor anticipate its potential impact on the rest of his life.

For those among you looking for meaningful volunteer work, who want to make a real and lasting difference in a child’s life, in ways that, frankly, the child may never know about or appreciate (but YOU will), this is it. Marty Sink and her team at CASA of NH will train you, provide resources, and guide you in this endeavor. You don’t need to be an attorney. Most of us aren’t. You just need genuine interest, a caring heart, some of your time, good communication skills, and a desire to make this corner of our world a better place.

I urge you to check out CASA of NH at www.casanh.org. You’ll change a kid’s life. You may change your own.

Jim Roche is president of the Business and Industry Association. The BIA, New Hampshire’s statewide chamber of commerce, produces this column monthly exclusively for the Sunday News.

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