Tiffany is one of 10,000 twinkling white lights.
That could be something magical for a child.
But it isn't.
The 10,000 lights represent the children helped over the past 25 years by CASA of the Pikes Peak Region. They were beaten, abused and neglected children who CASA advocates stood beside in the courts on the bumpy road to safe, permanent homes.
Tiffany, standing in front of a draped background with twinkling lights, told 1,350 people at the CASA Light of Hope breakfast and lunch April 22 how CASA had changed her life.
Now 24, the poised young woman was the subject of a video recounting how, when she was 9 years old, she and her younger brother and sister were removed from their home where there was domestic violence, mental health problems and addiction. The catalyst for them going into foster care was baby sister Ariel, 6 months old, who was found dead between her crib and the wall while their parents were partying downstairs. Tiffany, who had been forced into a role as a little mother, felt she was somehow responsible. She planned the funeral and the headstone for little Ariel.
Assigned by the court to advocate for the children, Theresa Krainz came into their lives. As their court-appointed special advocate, she kept the children together through a system designed to separate them, and she was there for foster-adopt parents Mark and Carol Beal during difficult years when the children's abusive parents tried to have the kids returned to them. Instead, Krainz advocated for them to be adopted by the Beals, who admitted there had been times when things were so complicated they considered giving up on the case. Instead, they all became a new family, and Mark became a stay-at-home father.
That was 15 years ago. The children are now 24, 23 and 18, and the Beals have three grandchildren.
"Because of Theresa's influence I am able to pursue my dreams and become the person I never dreamed lived inside of me," Tiffany told those at the Light of Hope. She is married, has a bachelor's degree in nursing, works in labor and delivery and is studying for her master's degree. Quietly, remembering little Ariel, Tiffany said, "I love babies," and she wants to advocate for them.
Her dreams are coming true, said Tiffany, because Theresa was someone who cared enough to fight for her and to help her have the family she deserved.
There to support her once again on April 22 was a surprise visitor: Theresa, who now lives in Vermont and had been flown in. In fact, the entire support group from those difficult years was there for her: mom and dad Mark and Carol, Theresa and the CASA case supervisor Liane Shupp, Dr. George Cresswell, CASA Executive Director Trudy Strewler-Hodges and a new addition, Tiffany's husband of four years, Jason Jorgenson.
"In a perfect world, no child would be hurt," said Strewler-Hodges. She encouraged the audience to "let us give a voice to the child who does not have one."
Her words were echoed by Susan Edmondson, who over 22 years has been a volunteer CASA advocate, chairman of the CASA board and on the nonprofit's advisory board. All children need the safety, the freedom, to just be children, Edmondson said. Now the CEO of Downtown Partnership of Colorado Springs, Edmondson said, "I'm certain everything I've achieved today is because I had a mother and father who cared for me, who supported me." Every child deserves a home like that, she said. "A safe and permanent home where deep in your core you finally feel free to exhale."
And, as the Colorado Springs Children's Chorale sang "If just one person believes in you, maybe even you can believe in you, too," the audience, many in tears, helped CASA hit its fundraising goal of $276,000.
But they didn't stop there; they smashed it, pledging $358,000 to give even more kids like Tiffany a voice.