In March, six members of the CASA of Northwest Arkansas staff joined approximately 1,200 people from across the nation for the annual National CASA Conference. This year’s conference was held in Seattle, the birthplace of the CASA movement forty years ago. The theme, Building Brighter Futures for America’s Abused and Neglected Children, encouraged a reflection on the network’s strong foundation while emphasizing the need to prepare our teams for challenges in the future.
The three-day conference featured traditional break-out sessions in areas of program development, volunteer recruitment, marketing/fundraising, as well as critical issues impacting child welfare. Beyond informing, the conference provided an excellent opportunity to be inspired. The highlight of the conference was hearing directly from retired Judge David Soukup, the founder of the very first CASA program in 1977. The Judge shared his goals for the CASA network. First and foremost, he believed that every child in the system should have a CASA volunteer. You can imagine how delighted our staff was to hear that his goal echoed our local vision to serve every child in need by 2020.
The plenary sessions also featured the author of Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance, who reminded CASA supporters to approach these children and their families, often struck by the plague of poverty, with humility. Another memorable speaker was former foster child, Giovan Bazan, who showed how adversity and hardship can provide meaning and purpose in one’s life. He referred to his scars as proof he survived something that was meant to destroy him. You can imagine the impact he left on the audience.
In closing, the conference was an excellent opportunity for our staff to learn and network. But, more importantly, we left with the tools and inspiration to make a more significant impact on the children we serve.