Laura Farmer had never heard the term “social work” before attending Missouri State University.
She planned on another major. But after the first lecture of her introduction to social work course, she had found her calling.
Seventeen years later, she has helped change the lives of hundreds of foster children and families.
As executive director of Court Appointed Special Advocates of southwest Missouri, known as CASA, she strives to help every local foster care child.
CASA is a nonprofit that recruits, trains and supports community volunteers who speak up for the best interests of abused, neglected or foster children in a courtroom.
Seeking new experiences and meeting her idol at MSU
After growing up in a small town in central Missouri called Versailles, Farmer was ready to experience college life in a larger city.
“I was drawn to MSU because of its opportunities, variety of studies and tight-knit campus atmosphere,” she said.
Farmer attended from 2000 to 2004 with a full-ride scholarship, and received a bachelor’s degree in social work.
She was the philanthropic chairperson of her sorority, Alpha Sigma Alpha. She also participated in social work clubs and intramural sports.
One of her favorite memories was playing basketball with her idol, Lady Bear Jackie Stiles. At the time, Stiles was an MSU student.
“I walked in to shoot some hoops for fun at McDonald Arena, and Jackie Stiles was there,” said Farmer. “We played a game of horse together and it was the most fabulous moment of my life. She beat me, of course.”
Using her strengths to serve others, especially children
After she graduated from Missouri State, Farmer completed AmeriCorps’ National Civilian Community Corps program. For one year, she traveled across the United States and helped with service projects.
Farmer used the education stipend she received from AmeriCorps to complete more school in Columbia, Missouri. She graduated from the University of Missouri in 2007 with a master’s degree in social work.
Farmer started her career while she pursued that degree. She worked as a case manager for children in foster care at Missouri Alliance for Children and Families for several years.
The alliance expanded into Greene County, and Farmer relocated to Springfield. Next, she became supervisor for the team of local case managers.
She then worked at Lutheran Family and Children Services as regional director. Her primary focus was on foster parents and adoption services. After eight years, she decided to return to helping children in foster care.
In 2017, she started working at CASA.
CASA is expanding and has new buildings in Springfield
CASA’s volunteers are appointed by the court. They work with one child for the duration of the case.
“I believe every child needs to know that they matter, their voice matters and they are cared for; that’s what I believe we do at CASA,” Farmer said.
CASA volunteers help their child feel heard, teach them life skills and help the judge decide what’s best for the child.
“Laura has worked with her staff to find innovative ways to connect with the community to recruit volunteers,” said Michele Brown, a member of CASA’s board of directors and assistant professor of social work at MSU. “She genuinely cares about the people around her. She is goal-oriented and works diligently to better the lives of children and families.”
Farmer helped CASA raise $3.7 million to purchase and renovate two buildings: CASA Headquarters and CASA Clubhouse.
The clubhouse will be the first activity center for children in foster care in Missouri. The headquarters opened this February, and the clubhouse opened in April.
“We are only as strong as the support of our community, and our community really cares about kids,” Farmer said.
Giving back and helping children is “my purpose in life”
Missouri State’s social work program helped Farmer feel prepared for her career.
“Burnout and turnover rates are high in social work,” she said. “The coursework gave me a realistic view of the profession and taught me skills so I could work long-term in child welfare.”
Farmer stays connected with Missouri State by supervising internships at CASA for social work students. She also attends MSU sporting events.
Farmer plans to continue supporting CASA and help foster children thrive.
“I always say that I’m a lifer,” she said. “I’ll never do anything different. Social work is my purpose in life — my calling — and I’m fulfilling that.”