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CASA means making a difference Friday's fund raiser provides fund to see the organization that aids children in the judicial system through the year

By Robin Y. Richardson ryrichardson@marshallnewsmessenger.com
Nov. 6, 2010 at 5:33 p.m.

T71st District Court Judge William T\u002e Hughy shakes hands with the newly\u002dsworn in CASA volunteeres during a 2009 swearing in ceremony in the 71st District Courtroom\u002e\u000d

They are the voice for abused and neglected children.

They act as the eyes of the court.

And in a court system challenged by increasing caseloads, Court Appointed Specialist Advocates, or CASA, can make a great difference in the life of a child.

The public can make a difference as well by participating in CASA of Harrison County's second annual Black Gold Benefit, Friday, at Josey Ranch in Karnack.

"This is definitely our biggest fund raiser of the year," said Marcy Roth, executive director. "We do a spring luncheon at the Michelson, but this one kind of sustains us through the year."

The event will begin at 6 p.m. and features entertainment by Jerry Jeff Walker, a silent auction, a live auction, a mechanical bull, a wine pull and dinner catered by Blue Frog Grill.

"You can ride a mechanical bull and get a T-shirt that says, 'I rode the bull.' We'll do some give-aways and have souvenir pictures that you can take away with you, too," said Ms. Roth, adding that one of Walker's autographed guitars will be auctioned off.

In addition to helping with expenses incurred with running the local office, the benefit allows the organization to provide further support to children, who are in CPS custody.

"Aside from either Christmas or birthdays, we can help with school uniforms or sometimes it's day care," said Ms. Roth.

Funds raised allows them to help CPS out tremendously.

"CPS here in Harrison County, they are amazing and we have a really good relationship with them and they do exactly what they are supposed to do up until they can't," said Ms. Roth. "A lot of times the means aren't there to help the kids get what they need or with the foster family. So, with the money that we receive through our fund raiser, we want to put it back into the community and help with those specific kids that are in care.

She encourages the public to participate in Friday's benefit and have a good, boot-scootin' time.

"It's obviously a great cause and one that's very dear to my heart," said Ms. Roth, adding every dime helps local children.

The executive director thanked R.E. and Martha Josey for the use of their venue.

"The Joseys donated that whole entire venue to us out of the goodness of their hearts and they've been really good to us," she said. "They are such good supporters of Marshall as well."

<strong>ABOUT CASA OF</strong>

<strong>HARRISON COUNTY</strong>

CASA of Harrison County was initially serviced through East Texas CASA in Longview. Three years ago, in July 2007, it became its own entity, starting a program here in Harrison County to better provide services for local children.

"Judge Bonnie Leggat Hagan and Jennifer Truelove, who was in the DA's office at that time, were very instrumental in getting this all started, and up and going," said Ms. Roth.

In August, Texas CASA appointed the Harrison County branch to start taking Marion County cases under its wing.

"We're under the Texas CASA umbrella," said Ms. Roth. "It's a compliment when they ask you to take on another county, so we're pretty proud."

She said she's especially proud since the local office only has three staff members, which includes her.

"There's so many big programs out there that have a lot of employees and service a lot of kids," she said. "We have three. I'm blessed. Both Wendi and Jan are just (great). I couldn't have asked for any better people."

Wendi Everingham is business manager and Jan Carter is the volunteer coordinator.

Currently, the local organization has 28 volunteers, who are trained to serve as advocates for children, who are in the custody of CPS.

"I'm very proud," Ms. Roth said of the number of volunteers.

The CASA volunteers are appointed as attorney ad litems or guardian ad litems for children when they are removed from their homes by CPS due to abuse or neglect.

"The judge appoints us to the case and for those 12 to 18 months where parents are working services, hopefully, to get their children back, we just advocate and are a voice for the child," Ms. Roth explained. "We are strictly there to tell the court and tell the judge what our opinion is in the best interest of the child. That's a temporary process where we are involved and then hopefully in that 12 to 18 months, they go back home. It's a pretty big time commitment."

"It's a big responsibility," she added. "But, it's a good feeling to know that you are helping. It's pretty amazing."

CASA serves children, ranging from infant ages up to 17. Ms. Roth said the local organization has been blessed to have good, financial support from people that are interested in the children's welfare even when they are out of CASA's care.

"So, we try to provide things or services or help," she said. "A lot of the foster placements will have foster children, plus their own biological children, so money can get pretty tight. So, we try to help with Christmas and birthdays. And, if they are seniors in high school, we try to do prom or homecoming or class rings, pictures, announcements and cap and gown - that type of stuff."

Last year, the CASA agency had an opportunity to assist a girl, who was going off to college.

"She had been in foster care for a good part of her life and decided to go to college," said Ms. Roth. "So, we, with some other agencies, were able to get her into an apartment. It's really rewarding to be able to help."

She urges those interested in becoming CASA volunteers to call the office at 903-923-9224 or visit the Web site at www.casaofharrisoncounty.org.

"I would be happy to talk with anyone or give them information," she said.

Tickets to Friday's benefit are $125. Call 903-923-9224 or visit the Web site, www.blackgoldbenefit.com. Tickets can also be purchased at the door.

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