The care of thousands of abused and neglected children is decided in Texas courts every year.

The goal is to have a court appointed special advocate looking out for the best interests of each child.

Every April, CASA of Walker, San Jacinto, and Trinity Counties celebrate the volunteers who advocate for children in foster care in this tri-county area. A stakeholder speaks, CPS caseworkers are recognized, milestones are acknowledged and the advocate and new advocate of the year Awards are bestowed.

As with so many other events, the Advocate Appreciation Luau fell victim to COVID-19.

Undaunted by the current pandemic, the CASA staff arranged a Cinco de Mayo Zoom event. Instead of a tropical beverage provided by the staff, advocates furnished their own Coronas, margaritas or softer Cinco de Mayo beverages. The sausage shish kabobs gave way to chips and salsa from the advocates’ pantries, and ponchos and sombreros replaced floral leis.

Although the staff and advocates did not gather under one roof to share their laughter, congratulations, and happy tears; technology helped them link together to honor various achievements.

The evening began with Chris Supan, Diana Pelham and Amanda Marshall being recognized for miles traveled for the organization. Altogether, the CASAs of Walker, San Jacinto, and Trinity Counties traveled a total of 85,832 miles in 2019.

The attendees to this unique gathering celebrated the four people that have served the local CASA program for more than five years. Although most cases are closed within 12-18 months, Jeanmarie Murray has faithfully stayed committed to her CASA child’s for the past six years. Chris and Cindy Supan have faithfully served many CASA kids for seven years. Pat Stephenson has served this community for ten years.

The evening did not pass without praise bestowed upon the Board of Directors and their tireless efforts. Keith Ahee, Mary Charlotte Elliot, Maria Busby, and Terri Cook received recognition for the six years of service they have bestowed upon this organization. Sadly, these four have nearly completed their terms, but there are several board associates who are waiting to seamlessly step into these “big shoes”.

The staff sprinkled various door prize drawings, most festive awards, and time for sharing throughout the evening, but imparting the information regarding the number of children being reunited with families or finding their “forever homes” was a priority for the evening. Since January 1, 2019, 135 children exited foster care: 19 Adoptions, 7 Aged-Out, 2 Emancipations, 41 Living with Relatives, and 66 Returned Home. These children spent 2,198 months in foster care or almost 66,000 days.

The evening culminated with sharing the nominations for the New Advocate of the Year and Advocate of the Year. New advocate of the year nominees included: Mariah Hardy, Catharine James, Lauren Rubenstein, Judy Vandiver, Trish Wilson and Pam Zinnante. James won the award, graciously accepting the accolade with joyful tears.

Nominees for Advocate of the Year included: Sharon Dieringer, Matt Jugran, Amanda Marshall, Mary Partida, Renee Spencer and Lois Stehlik. Sharon Dieringer accepted the award with humility and poise.

The abuse and neglect of children spikes during crises like these. CASA of Walker, San Jacinto, and Trinity Counties has an army of people standing ready to fight for our most vulnerable population.

Are you ready to step in the trenches with these brave souls? To volunteer with CASA contact via email at j.davidson@casaofwalkercounty.org or by calling 936-291-2272, ext. 104.