The annual CASA Of Westmoreland Leadership Breakfast was held Friday, April 27 and highlighted the efforts of staff, volunteers, supporters and donors with 300 local community and business leaders in attendance.
Every year more than 3.6 million referrals are made to child protection agencies, involving more than 6.6 million children.” CASA, also known as Court Appointed Special Services, is a volunteer-based organization providing a voice in the courts on behalf of abused and neglected children in Westmoreland County. The recommendations of these volunteers assist the courts in determining the child’s placement in safe, permanent and nurturing homes. CASA opened their doors in 2007, guiding and nourishing children that needed them ever since.
CASA just celebrated a milestone 10th Annual Leadership breakfast in hopes to continue their mission of providing advocacy to abused and neglected children in Westmoreland County. More than 300 local community and business leaders attended this powerful breakfast, leaving many attendee’s in tears by the end. This organization is run by great members and volunteers that truly make a difference for each and every child that they come in contact with.
One essential volunteer that has made a significant impact on both the children and organization was Nancy Gibson. Through hard work and dedication she made sure that kids and families had services that they needed. She was a friendly, warm, and welcoming soul who truly made a difference and was given the CASA Volunteer of the Year Award.
“Hearts, souls, and minds come together for these children.” Gibson said in a heart-felt speech. “They have taught me everything. We need to listen to them and give them a voice, that’s how we figure out who they are and what they need from us to help them succeed.”
Victorious Callymare-Bey, a current Musical Theatre major at Seton Hill University shared his powerful story of how organizations like CASA helped change his life. As a young child, Victorious was placed in foster care and lived a rough life but was able to get on the right track after being placed with Chris, a case worker. He grew a relationship with Chris, who encouraged him to do better in school and gave him his motivation to succeed. Chris helped him reunite with his Aunt & Uncle who he now has the privilege of calling Mom and Dad. After sharing his story, he went on to perform Wind Beneath My Wings, which hit home with not only him but everyone in attendance. There wasn’t a dry eye in the crowd.
High school student, Melissa Paravate, was honored with the Judge Christopher Feliciani Youth Leadership Award for her tremendous leadership and dedication to helping others at the breakfast. At Greensburg Salem High School, she organized Dodge for Dimension, which raised thousands of dollars for an amazing cause, along with being the president of National Honor Society), attending 4 mission trips, teaches Spanish to 2nd and 3rd graders, holds a part time job and that is only a portion of what she does. She has contributed more than 1,000 hours of community service and is a born leader who loves helping others.
In January 2015, current CASA Executive Director Mandy Zalich CASA Board VP Suzanne Ward along with Mike Ward and Senator Kim Ward set out to rewrite a bill that would increase the number of organizations that would receive funding through the PA Commission on Crime and Delinquency. Suzanne, became a CASA volunteer, advocate and later a Board Member after learning about the organization during jury duty when Judge Feliciani talked about the impact of CASA in the courtroom and for the child. She then wanted to help increase funding to support more children in our area. The original bill, authored by Senator Ward, unfortunately failed and had to be responsored. It took almost three years but Bill 260 was finally passed and helps bring a voice to voiceless individuals. The bill will help fund 16 organizations, more than the previous 9 and allowed VSAC, the Victims Services Advisory Committee, to add more appointed government board member to increase diversity. $126 million is allotted this year with $80-90 million slated for next year’s funding.
Since opening their doors in 2007, CASA has been able to serve 600 kids. Unfortunately, due to lack of volunteers, CASA has to turn down around 200 kids a year. They would love to provide a volunteer to all of the children that need one.
“As long as there is a need in our community,” said Zalich. “CASA will be here.”
Support CASA and their wonderful mission by attending one of their upcoming events:
May 12 – 1st Annual Spring Round Up
(also benefits Central Westmoreland Habitat for Humanity)
August 24 – CASA Annual Golf and Tennis Tournament
November 3 – CASA Fall Gala