Gala fundraiser nets $60,000 for CASA of Ellis County

On Saturday, Court Appointed Special Advocates for children (CASA) of Ellis County hosted its 6th Annual Share the Love Gala at the Waxahachie Civic Center.

The night’s festivities consisted of dinner, a silent auction with more than 200 items up for bid, raffle drawings, door prizes, a photo kiosk, musical entertainment from The Classic Swing Band, and an address from the honorary chair, former WFAA news anchor and Wednesday’s Child host, Gloria Campos.

With an estimated profit of $60,000, the gala is the single largest fundraiser the organization arranges in the year.

“When you think about the efficiency of an organization and the power in impact, there’s not a better dollar than CASA,” said John Knight, the CASA board of directors president. “Every dollar we get from the state, we’ve raised a matching dollar, and because we operate with volunteers, every dollar we get from the state turns into $4 of value.”

CASA volunteers are generally assigned one case involving one child or a family of children, and they assume the position of guardian ad litem until the case’s completion. With the best interests of the child in mind, volunteers thoroughly research the details of the case, attend court dates with children, accompany children on visits with their parents, call children’s therapists and schools and anything else to ensure that each child is being well-represented.

“The work that CASA volunteers do is heartbreaking, and it is also very joyful,” said Nannette Paghi, the board of directors secretary. “Sometimes we have a good outcome, sometimes we have bad outcomes. It’s all a part of what we do, and they do it willingly. Volunteers are able to intervene in a child’s life at the time when they need it the most.”

In Ellis County, there are more than 100 children in foster care because of abuse and neglect. The road to finding a stable home environment can be arduous and lonely, as many foster children bounce from one temporary placement to another and sometimes get passed from one case worker to another.

“They’re performing an essential service for these children,” Campos said. “They’re in the state foster care system, so they’ve been short-changed by their parents and the system sometimes gets overwhelmed. These children really benefit from having a special someone who looks out just for them.”

Judge Jim Chapman is the county court at law judge who hears all CPS cases in Ellis County. Judges, Child Protective Services workers and attorneys are extremely busy working on multiple cases at one time. It is beneficial for a case to have a CASA volunteer who can focus solely on the children involved in one case.

“CASA volunteers are the eyes and ears of the court to get back to me and give a laymen’s opinion of what’s going on and the true situation,” Chapman said. “That’s very valuable just to be able to hear what the experience is like for the kids.”

Volunteers and Waxahachie and Global high school students helped staff the event by monitoring bid items, selling raffle tickets and ushering guests in.

In addition to the silent auction, guests bid on amazing packages in a live auction that featured gift ideas just in time for Valentine’s Day like seven nights in St. Thomas, Dallas Mavericks packages, and a 10-week old Great Pyrenees/ Border Collie pup.

The funds raised will go to the training and support of CASA volunteers. CASA helps foster parents give care to children by paying for things like karate classes, gymnastics, and even airfare when a case relocates a child to out-of-state family.

“Medicaid will only buy them one pair of glasses every two years,” CASA volunteer supervisor Rebecca Gentry said. “If they break their glasses or lose them, there is no Medicaid to pay for new glasses. It’s really important for us to pitch in and help out.”

Currently, there are 56 active CASA volunteers. A volunteer can have a maximum of two cases. However, it is best for volunteers to have only one case so they can give each case as much attention as it needs.

“The numbers of children that are coming into CPS custody has grown, so we still need volunteers,” Gentry said. “Sometimes, when we get a new case we have a hard time finding a volunteer who can take it.”

Along with their website and Facebook page, CASA of Ellis County sends out hundreds of invitations to service-oriented groups requesting people to become volunteers. For more information on CASA and becoming a volunteer, visit www.casaofelliscounty.org.

“I often have the opportunity to hear from adults around the state whose lives have been traumatized from the abuse that they have suffered,” CASA Executive Director Rhodie Rawls said. “They may have languished in our foster care system as kids, but now they can share stories of hope. Hope because maybe they did have a CASA who was a consistent person in their life during that journey.”