Updated: May 1, 2009 at 12:00 am
The little blond-haired boy was matter-of-fact. Back when he was around 5 years old, a couple of years ago, he was the one who found food for his little sister and changed her diapers. Their parents just weren't there for them.
In a CASA Light of Hope breakfast/lunch video, his sister was incredulous as she told the video team that today, in their new "forever home," their new parents fix breakfast, lunch and dinner for them. Every day.
Just as the 1,700 attendees at the two Light of Hope seatings reached for the Kleenex boxes, a tween on the screen said that when she was younger she was the one left in charge of her siblings when their mother disappeared. The tween was the one who discovered her infant sister dead in the crib. "I didn't know what to do," she said, tears rolling down her cheeks. Just like the audience in the Antlers Hilton ballroom.
The video said that what these kids really wanted was "someone to take care of them." It came true for all of them after they were appointed "their own trained CASAs (Court Appointed Special Advocates)" and over time became part of permanent, safe families. In the audience at the lunch on April 22 were the blond boy and his two little sisters, his mom and dad, and the tween with her adoptive family.
CASA, celebrating its 20th anniversary, has been called in to help more than 5,500 abused and neglected children, said Executive Director Trudy Strewler. "There were 11,400 reports of abuse and neglect last year in El Paso and Teller counties," she said. "In my 20 years of CASA, I have never seen this level of severity, these numbers, this tragedy."
Strewler and board Chairman-elect Joshua Waymire shared that, with support, CASA can help at least 100 additional children, a quarter of those waiting for an advocate.
The response was a record-setting preliminary figure of $360,000.
Sharing their story were CASA volunteer Kathleen Gamblin and former CASA child Ashley. Gamblin was assigned the case in 1999 and met a 4 1/2-year-old girl in a "plaid red dress and lots of pigtails" - and electrical-cord whip marks on her body. She had been sexually abused.
Gamblin determined that Ashley's father would not comply with court orders and provide a safe environment for his daughter. Her mother, however, completed a parenting program, therapy and an inpatient treatment program, and 16 months later had all four of her children back home. "Over 10 years later, Ashley and her mother are both healthy, happy and thriving," Gamblin said. The family members were at Light of Hope together.
Ashley said her CASA "showed that she cared by listening to me and my opinions. She still encourages me to strive for the best and reach for my aspirations."
Ashley became student body president, president of the National Junior Honor Society, head editor and photographer for the yearbook and plans to become a "culinary arts technician." Just maybe she'll become a CASA volunteer, "just like Mrs. Gamblin."
Serving as hosts and hostesses for the benefit, as well as the musical entertainment, were the Madison Stars Children's Choir.
Co-presenting sponsors were El Pomar Foundation and Raymond James & Associates Inc.
Table captains who had invited family and friends to hear the CASA story included community leaders, CASA board members and Light of Hope committee members including Wayne Bland, Catherine and Tom Calvin, Karla Collins, Merri Conley, Meredith Cord, Carolyn Dekok, Deb DeYoung, Chrys Fotenos, Martha Frohling, Renae Gannon, Debbie Glisson, George Guerrero, Cheryl Harding, Jane Hegstrom, Dawn Ignatius, Natasha Jamerson, Joanne Jones, Meg Kendall, Stanley Kouba, board Chairman Rob McDonald, Jennifer McHugh, Sherri Newell, Kenton Pass, Paul Perea, Patti Rogers, Angela Rose, Dawud Salaam, William Shaner, Beale Tejada, Rebecca and Chuck Theobald, Joshua Waymire and Terri Wheeler-Powers.
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