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Court Appointed Special Advocates push for holiday fundraiser after failure of Children's Safety Levy

PHOTO COURTESY OF CASA OF CLACKAMAS COUNTY - Volunteer Sandy Gardner poses for a photo as part of CASA Clackamas County's holiday campaign, 'If you give a kid a CASA...'Court Appointed Special Advocates of Clackamas County are in the midst of a major push to challenge its donor base to give the gift of a CASA this holiday season.

Court Appointed Special Advocates, also known as "CASAs," are highly trained volunteers whose job is to act as a champion for the rights, prosperity and general well-being of youth navigating the murky waters of the state's foster-care system.

PHOTO COURTESY CASA OF CLACKAMAS COUNTY - Volunteer Dan Schumaker believes that 'If you give a kid a CASA... they'll know somebody cares.'Between June 2019 and June 2020, 170 volunteers with CASA of Clackamas County advocated on behalf of 369 kids from 243 families, donating more than 15,200 hours of their time to help ensure these children are given the best possible shot at finding a permanent placement.

FILE PHOTO - Robin Christian, executive director of CASA of Clackamas County.Now the organization is calling on its partners, both individuals and local businesses, to help them achieve their goal of raising $100,000 by the end of the year.

CASA of Clackamas County recently kicked off its holiday campaign titled "If you give a kid a CASA" — a play off the 1985 children's book by Laura Nemoff, "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie."

The story is a fabled tale about a mouse who's given an inch and takes a mile, illustrating the idea of the slippery slope.

But according to Robin Christian, executive director of CASA of Clackamas County, the idea behind the nonprofit's campaign has quite the opposite meaning of the book.

"Nobody knows better than a CASA what happens if you give a kid a CASA," Christian said.

The campaign theme is accompanied by a newly produced video where volunteers explain the impact their advocacy has had on the children whose cases they've been assigned. Each video vignette explains all the ways in which foster youth benefit from having a court-appointed advocate and what that means to their journey to find permanency.

For example, CASA volunteer Sandy Gardner explains that, "If you give a kid a CASA, the journey is a little less scary.

"A child I advocate for has been in care for almost three years, and the first year and a half she was in care, she was in 16 different foster homes," Gardner said. "The adults in her life kept changing. Two different attorneys, four different case workers and many therapists. But through it all, I'm there."

Gardner's story is one that rings true in many of the hundreds of cases of foster youth in Clackamas County where sometimes the only constant in these kids' lives is their CASA. That sentiment is at the heart of CASA of Clackamas County's fundraising outreach as they try to make up for a year in which they weren't able to host their typical spring gala at which a majority of their revenue is raised to help train new volunteers and administer their programs.

According to Christian, CASA of Clackamas County is currently nearing the halfway point of their $100,000 goal for this holiday season, but they're hoping to have a strong push these final weeks to hopefully surpass that goal as it's looking like they won't be able to host their annual fundraiser again this spring.

The organization is also one of several that comprise the Safe Kids Coalition — the group of nonprofits in Clackamas County that were pushing for the passage of the Children's Safety Levy on the Nov. 3 ballot. Voters rejected the measure, forcing CASA of Clackamas County and its partners to get creative with their fundraising efforts and COVID-19 forces service providers to adapt in a number of ways.

"CASAs have stepped up to figure out ways to stay in touch with kids as one of the only mandatory reporters keeping regular contact and keeping eyes on kids," Christian said. "We've been astounded by the level of creativity CASAs are bringing in the ways which they connect with kids."

Christian also points out that the most recent graduating class of CASAs to come through her program did so completely virtually, with all interviews, training and appointments made through digital technology. That means these volunteers have committed to working through the challenges posed by this pandemic to ensure that there is always someone advocating on behalf of kids in the foster system.

And although CASA of Clackamas County's reach is wide with 188 volunteers, there are still at least 50 children on the waitlist to be appointed a CASA locally. Christian believes that with the help of community members in Clackamas County and beyond, her organization can make up the funding gap in order for every child to receive the guidance and consistency that a CASA provides.

"I think it's important that people understand the impact of having one consistent, reliable adult in the life of a child who carries their story," Christian said. "I don't think you can undervalue the impact of that on a child's life."

More information on CASA of Clakamas County's holiday fundraising campaign can be found at the organization's website.

Thanks to a matching challenge made by the Bend-based Maybelle Clark McDonald Fund, donations made during the drive of $500 to $5,000 will be doubled.

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