A record number of guests attended the eight annual Court Appointed Special Advocates gala event supporting the organization’s annual fundraiser.

“We have more than 500 registered to come through pre-sold tickets. This is the largest attendance in the history of our annual event,” Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Executive Director Rhodie Rawls said.

When the doors opened at the Waxahachie Convention Center, tables were set up with more than 300 silent auction items donated by local businesses and individuals. Among those things were family portrait sessions, many dining opportunities, sports and entertainment memorabilia, shopping trips, and entertainment passes.

“This is one of the largest numbers of donations we’ve had,” Rebecca Gentry said.

In addition, several live auction items were also donated including grills donated by the Red Oak High School Ag mechanics class, a custom playhouse made by Waxahachie High School students, guided duck hunting trip, a 100-year-old church pew from the Central Presbyterian Church and an autographed football by Dak Prescott.

Justin Ballard, who sang a broad genre of music while shoppers looked through the silent auction items and during dinner, filled the evening with live entertainment.

Emcee Andy Lehman described the need to support CASA and the need for foster parents.

“Right now while we are sitting here eating dinner, right here in Ellis County alone there are more than 250 children that are in the foster care system," Lehman said. "It takes a team of people to care for those kids. We are here tonight to talk about how we can work together to support the cause of CASA.”

Guest speaker, Bishop Aaron Blake, is an advocate, supporter and foster parent. Blake described his beginning as a foster parent. Blake and his wife, Mary, have since raised six children of their own.

“When I was at Brownwood High School there was a young man named, Melvin. Melvin needed a place to call home. I told him he could come live with us. With my wife and me having raised six children, we were experiences empty nesters” said Blake as he described the beginning of his involvement in foster care. “When I went to file to be Melvin’s foster parent, I was asked what my qualifications were. I told her, my wife and I have successfully raised six wonderful children. I am an educator and a mentor to young people.”

He continued, “Melvin loved to play football. It wasn’t long before Melvin came home saying he had a friend that played football and needed a place to call home. A year later, we had six new foster sons, who all played on the Brownwood football team.

“With the number of orphan children in Texas, it would be wonderful if we could shrink those number to where we would have foster parents waiting in children, not children waiting I foster parents.”

“We are here with children on our hearts, and there are a mountain of opportunities to help them,” Blake said of the need.

During the presentations, Rawls announced that after operating for many years from an office building owned by Clay Jenkins on Water Street in Waxahachie that “[Jenkins] is donating us the building. This is a wonderful gift and will greatly support CASA."

Fund-a-Child was one of the fundraisers held during the evening. Rebecca Gentry spoke of the continuing need and her experiences helping children who need care. During her talk, she cited statistics showing 172 children died from child abuse across Texas in 2017 and two of those were in Ellis County.

“There is an average of one child entering foster care every three days in Ellis County. We need your help," she added.

Fund-a-Child was an opportunity for individuals to purchase raffle tickets for prizes that included a Heritage Rough Rider single-action revolver, Disney passes, and three-round-trip passes on Southwest Airlines.

“We get most of our operating funds from the dinner. This year we are hoping to raise $100,000,” Rawls said.