When people think of volunteering, they often think of helping out for a few hours at the local animal shelter or food bank. But, the term volunteer means much more to the crowd of 270 CASA advocates, staff, and supporters who gathered at the Apollo on Emma in Springdale on April 24. Each year, during National Volunteer Month, CASA of Northwest Arkansas hosts this event to thank the hundreds of community members who give their free time to help children in need.
On average, a CASA volunteer provides 5 – 10 hours of advocacy a month and is expected to serve the case until it closes, approximately 15 – 18 months. “Their passion and commitment to brighter futures for these special children is why we host such an event. We could not make the impact we do without these dedicated volunteers,” shared Executive Director Crystal Vickmark.
Among those present that evening who were recognized for five years of service or greater included:
- 5 year CASA veterans: Elise and Marius de Waal and Marcia Gaddy
- 6 year CASA veterans: Emily Bost, Deanna Cicatiello, and Dara Yeager
- 7 year CASA veterans: Sharyl Barwick and Marilyn and John Cornwell
- 8 year CASA veterans: Shannon Carpenter and Sidney Hewgley
- 13 year CASA veteran: Janet Steencken
Beyond recognizing the more than 100 volunteers present, we also heard from Washington County Circuit Judge Stacey Zimmerman who applauded the advocates for their efforts and ensured them that the work they are doing is making a real difference in the eyes of the court.
A special thanks to Carrabba’s Italian Grill and our other event sponsors including CORE Brewing Company, Trinchero Family Estates, and Anheuser-Busch who made this event truly spectacular for our VIPs, our CASA volunteers.
Only 58% of teens in foster care will graduate high school by age 19*. Don’t tell that to the six (!) foster teens from Northwest Arkansas who turned their tassels this May. They are beating the odds, one by one, and we couldn’t be more proud.
Of the six who graduated last month, five had the care and compassion of a CASA advocate this past year. As their advocates could tell you, these kids have experienced more in their young lives than most of us will ever understand.
We asked one of our advocates, James Keenan, about his newly graduated CASA kid. He shared, “It’s truly amazing what these young people can achieve when they are motivated and have stable, consistent support. For example, the young man I work with was able to improve his ACT score by 10 points once he had the systems in place to focus on school. That wasn’t just because of me; he was able to come home to an environment that allowed him to spend his time taking practice tests with encouragement and support from many people advocating for him. When CASA helps these young people land in a safe, reliable environment, magic happens.”
James couldn’t be prouder. His CASA kid is headed off to community college this year. In fact, four of the five graduates that our CASA advocates served are headed off to community college or a four year university. No matter the route, the road in front of them won’t be easy, and they could all use your thoughts and prayers.
If you would like to join us in the celebration, please email your message to these young people c/o Haley Carson, our Older Youth Specialist. She will forward your messages of congratulations and encouragement to these phenomenal young people.
A special thanks to the Willard and Pat Walker Charitable Foundation, Taco Bell Foundation, Fayetteville Junior Civic League, and Cox Charities for supporting our Older Youth advocates and program.
*Courtney, M.E., and Dworsky, A. (2005). Midwest evaluation of the adult functioning of former foster youth: Outcomes at age 19. Chicago, IL: Chapin Hall Center for Children.
For more than a decade, General Mills has been investing locally in the CASA movement. Our partnership has grown as members of their team have served as advocates, Light of Hope table captains, event volunteers, Christmas angels, and now board member (thanks, Dave Wurm). For the past three years, General Mills has invested tremendously in our program as title sponsors of our annual In Good Company corporate sponsorship program. Not only has this sponsorship provided us the critical financial resources our organization needed to grow, but it has also gifted us priceless exposure and outreach opportunities through General Mills’ in kind gifts of media.
But, one of the best parts about a donation from General Mills is the opportunity to interact with members of their BAC-IT (Bentonville Area Community Involvement Team) Committee. These individuals are GM employees who invest tremendously in the nonprofit community through volunteer service as well as by determining the philanthropic support local organizations receive from General Mills. The BAC-IT Committee humanizes what could be just another corporate relationship. They take the time to really understand the nonprofits in NWA and are active partners in our success.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the difference CASA has made in our community. The CASA staff, advocates, and volunteers work tirelessly to provide an unparalleled support network for some of our community’s most vulnerable children, and in-turn, inspire those outside of CASA to get involved and take action. I have no doubt that CASA of NWA can hit & exceed any target it sets, with the most prominent goal being that each child that needs a CASA will have one by 2020. The work being done here is incredible, and we, at General Mills, are thrilled to play a small part in it.”
-Kailey Reynolds, General Mills associate and BAC-IT member
We are thrilled they play a part in it, too. Thank you, General Mills, for living up to your pursuits of putting people first and treating the world with care!
Emily Bost may be small in stature, but she has one of the biggest hearts out there. From registered nurse to stay-at-home mom to volunteer manager to ordained deacon, Emily has held a variety of positions throughout the years. Regardless of title, they all had one thing in common – helping others.
As a native Arkansan, Emily met her husband Jim at a hospital in Little Rock decades ago. She, an R.N., heard a child’s cry as she walked through a pediatric wing and found Jim, a medical student, struggling with a scared child. She stepped in and magically calmed the little girl. That special power, the intuition and compassion, carried over when Emily and Jim started their own family and opened their home to foster children years later.
Given that history, it’s not surprising Emily is celebrating her sixth year as a CASA volunteer. Over those years, Emily has worked six cases and positively impacted the lives of eight kids. She goes above and beyond in her service. While it is required for an advocate to visit their CASA kids once a month, Emily tries to visit at least once a week. Because the littles on her cases are normally babies and toddlers, they can’t just tell Emily what’s wrong. She has to know by watching body language and learning patterns of behavior and speaking to all parties. Those babies don’t use words, but she knows what they want and need. And, Emily is there to convey that to the judge.
When asked what Emily tells someone who is considering becoming a CASA, she said “she tells people how hard it can be. How rewarding too, but you have to be willing to make the best decision for a child even when it’s difficult. When you have to tell the judge that a mom and dad aren’t capable of being good parents to a child, it tears your heart. But, I don’t feel I’ve made a wrong decision yet.”
Those babies who are thriving in their forever homes don’t either, Emily. Thank you for being their voice.