The Piedmont Court Appointed Special Advocates (PCASA) hosted its 9th Annual Hearts for Children Gala May 29 at Road Atlanta.
The charity event is hosted each year to raise funds and bring awareness of the need for volunteers to serve in its mission to serve the best interests of abused and neglected foster children in the courtroom and the community.
With more than 300 children currently in foster care in Banks, Barrow and Jackson counties, there is a great need for new volunteers. While over half of these children receive advocacy from a CASA volunteer, the vision is to serve 100 percent, said PCASA’s chairman, Joe Vogt,who has been a part of PCASA for 16 years since relocating to Winder.
All proceeds raised from the Heart for Children Gala benefit PCASA to help cover operating costs for training and recruiting volunteers and staff salaries not covered by local, state and federal grants.
The fundraiser held two auctions including a silent and live auction. Over 55 items donated by CASA members, its partners and businesses throughout the tri-county jurisdiction were auctioned by Nathan Cagle.The event also hosted a cash bar, live band and served dinner by Houndstooth Grill.
“The community really came together,” said event co-chair and PCASA board member, Charm McCall.
“What we’re really trying to bring to that child is hope when it seems there isn’t any,” said Vogt. “A kid doesn’t know what's going to happen to them next. We're trying to bring hope and establish a support system for the volunteers,” he said.
In addition to raising funds for PCASA, the event raises awareness of the need for volunteers. Volunteers are screened rigorously and receive more than 12 hours of training before they work with a child and an additional 12 hours of continued education is required annually.
Once training is complete, new volunteers must be sworn in by a judge and are assigned to a child in foster care with an advocacy coordinator to supervise and assist as needed.
Volunteers will visit and keep the child informed of all the aspects of the court proceedings, gather information about the child’s best interests, review family records, prepare written reports and participate in court hearings.
Each CASA volunteer is assigned one case at a time to ensure the child’s best interests are served. Since CASA volunteers are often the only constant in the lives of the children they advocate for, their perspective is highly valued by juvenile court judges throughout the state.
“It's hard work and it's emotionally taxing. I feel that to be a CASA volunteer, you have to feel a calling,” said Vogt.
When it comes to making recommendations to the judge on the child’s behalf, “even if our best interest recommendation is different from their wishes, we still ensure their wishes are known, heard and respected,” said PCASA executive director Brittany Gee, “it is important to us for the children we serve to know that we are listening and they are heard,” she said.
“We walk beside them no matter the outcome,” said Gee.
For those interested in becoming a CASA volunteer, registration is open and available at piedmontcasa.org. The next training class for new volunteers begins Aug. 26.