WARSAW — The airport hanger for Image Air was transformed into a Mediterranean night for the 14th annual CASA Holiday Festival with its theme “CASAblanca, Here’s Look’n Out For You Kid!”
Throughout the room silhouettes of kids holding messages were displayed and photos of CASA volunteers shown in a slide show while music played throughout the evening.
CASA volunteers are Court Appointed Special Advocates for children who have found themselves in the county’s court system.
Approximately 220 attended the evening’s event, raising over $38,500 for the CASA program to train and support the volunteers. Currently there are 60 CASA volunteers, but another 60 are needed.
Prior to the evening festivities was a VIP reception, featuring not only seven glasses of top wines but an appetizer prepared by Viand Chef Andrew Jones. The 106 attending the VIP also heard a special speaker who sees the work of CASA volunteers first hand.
Judge David Cates, Superior Court 1 and Juvenile Court, shared how CASA volunteers help him and other judges and the need for more CASA volunteers. A judge for 10 1/2 months, Cates stated “I didn’t know what I was getting into. But six months in, I learned the value of the CASA program in Kosciusko County.”
He noted it is the volunteers who meet with the children involved in various cases: juvenile court, divorce cases and children in need of services due to various situations — neglect, abuse, drugs. “These are the people we are supporting and celebrating tonight.”
“Many of you are not aware, the number of juvenile cases is at its highest and CASA is at its highest level … CASA volunteers are the eyes and ears of the court, investigating those in the system. The Department of Child Services do a wonderful job, I’ve had my issues with DCS, but they are limited in number. We need CASA volunteers as well.”
He explained the various cases including those of kids who “need our help,” because of abuse or neglect. “I could use three times as many as we have, including CASA in custody cases to help explain what is going on. I could use volunteers in every case. I do read every report filed that comes before me and I appreciate the information provided to me.”
He stated in 2013 there were 44 CHINS cases involving 143 children. In 2014 that number rose to 73 cases with 149 kids. In 2015, there has already been 50 cases with 152 kids. “By law, CHINS get a CASA volunteer. I would love to see CASA volunteers in other cases. The professionalism they bring to the program is fantastic,” Cates stated.
He referred to child custody cases where each parent may have his/her own attorney presenting their sides, or pro-se cases where the parents are representing themselves, but do not know who to present information to the courts. “Without CASA volunteers, how can we get an accurate picture to make a decision in the best interest of children? … they are a valuable asset … know what is going on.
“There is nothing special about me, I’m merely a guy with a great job. The thousands of hours they (CASA volunteers) give, they are special people. If you are someone who has the time, passion and ability, consider being a volunteer. They have a big heart full of passion, who work fairly and for kids … neat thing I get to do is at the conclusion of their 40 hours of training, I get to sit with them and swear them in and welcome them to the fold …
“Kids, themselves, universally, want to go home to be with their family. What CASA does is allow that, but in a safer environment. It is a thankless job, but they do make a difference … at the end of the day, they do make a difference.”
The food for the evening was donated by Boathouse Restaurant, Catering by Martin’s, Light Rail, Oakwood, One Ten Craft Meatery, and Sleepy Owl Supper Club. The desserts were donated by The Cake Lady. Noa Noa Restaurant provided the cash bar and parking was handled by KEMRAD.