Blues and Barbecue: CASA plans benefit to raise funds for abused, neglected kids

Monday, August 1, 2005

Mid-Life Crisis will provide live music for the event, and the menu includes red beans and rice.

Court Appointed Special Advocates of Southeast Missouri, the not-for-profit child advocacy group that works toward the best possible outcome for abused and neglected children in three counties, is gearing up for its annual Blues and Barbecue fund raiser.

The benefit is planned for 6:30 p.m. Aug. 19 at the Deerfield Lodge in Cape Girardeau.

Organizers hope the one special item up for auction will help to raise an unprecedented dollar amount to help close the funding gap. But more importantly, they hope to raise awareness of the need for more CASA volunteers. Last year the organization served 67 children.

CASA director of operations Valerie Blades said, "At this time there are six unfulfilled cases due to lack of volunteer availability. We really need a large class in our upcoming training session this year to meet the needs of the children." Training is scheduled to begin Sept. 6.

The barbecue, which typically clears $13,000, and other fund raisers, helps fill the budget gap created by loss of state funding in 2002. A $17,000 donation from the United Way and money from House Bill 107, which varies annually, contributed to this year's annual budget of $50,600, but the organization relies on donations and creative fund raising to close the gap. A new event planned for 2006 is a 5K run.

Special auction item

Missouri's own Sheryl Crow still feels strongly enough about supporting CASA to donate her signed Fender Telecaster for the event's auction. While enrolled at the University of Missouri, Crow was a member of Kappa Alpha Theta, a sorority that chose CASA as its philanthropic organization of choice. A local CASA advocate encased the guitar in glass and furnished a wood base for it. The guitar is slated for auction at 9 p.m. Aug. 19 at Deerfield Lodge. Board member Tiffany Parker said, "When we received the guitar from a source who wishes to remain anonymous, we thought of selling it on ebay. But we really wanted someone local to enjoy it."

Mid-Life Crisis will provide the event's musical entertainment and Ole Hickory Pits will furnish the barbecued pork, chicken wings and smoked turkey. Barbecue committee member Terry Crowell said the menu will have a little different twist this year, with specialty barbecue as the main entree and red beans and rice and spicy hors d'oeuvres for a Cajun flair. Happy hour has been added and a variety of cobblers will be available for dessert. Crowell remarked, "The beauty of this [event] is there's dozens of people working together, enabling us to involve as many people as we can, and in that way touch more cross sections."

CASA volunteers are appointed by a judge to recommend the best possible outcome for children who are victims of sexual, physical, emotional and verbal abuse, neglect, unsanitary living conditions, parents' homelessness or any combination of the above.

Training is free, no legal background is required; the only requirement is a desire to help abused children. The CASAs are special advocates who listen to the children, interview anyone involved in the child's life, (caseworkers, foster parents, teachers) and review all judicial, medical, social service, educational and other records pertaining to the child to help ensure their right to live in a safe and permanent home. The CASA's assessment helps determine whether the child stays in foster care, returns home, is placed with another family member or is adopted. Judges rely on CASA's testimony to make an informed decision on children's futures.

Representing the child

Judge Peter Statler, the juvenile court judge for Cape Girardeau, believes that while other parties in the case have representatives already in place, the representative for the child is the CASA. "The CASA's input is very valuable for the court in helping to put forth a position for the child. The other parties, already represented, have a spokesperson. The CASA represents the child." he said.

More than a half million children are in foster care because they cannot safely live with their families. CASA volunteers work to ensure that these children do not suffer further abuse due to the overburdened court system or at home. To become a CASA volunteer, call 335-1726.

Tickets for the barbecue may be purchased at Country Mart in Jackson and Schnuck's in Cape Girardeau.

335-6611, extension 133

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