I became the Executive Director of CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) in Jefferson Parish in February. On March 29, we held our annual Light of Hope gala, our largest annual fundraiser.
I had several friends attend the event, and their support meant the world to me. I was very grateful to have so much love in the crowd for my first public event. My friend Katy took this picture of me giving my speech.
Here's what I said:
Thank you all so much for being here this evening.
I'd like to first thank the gala committee for their remarkable work to make this event fun, delicious, and profitable.
I'd like to thank the Board of Directors for their support and also for making the wise decision to hire me.
I'd like to recognize my staff, who work tirelessly to make the world a better place. Tonight, they are all wearing blue ribbons, which signify child abuse prevention awareness. Please seek them out, thank them for their efforts, and find out how you can be a part of our cause.
Right now in Jefferson Parish, there are 40 children waiting for an advocate. 40 children in foster care who the court has appointed someone special to, but no one special has arrived yet. Please take a moment to consider someone special to you who would be interested in becoming a child's voice in court.
I've now been in this position for eight weeks, which is enough time to know I inherited a truly talented staff and one of the most successful Court Appointed Special Advocates programs in the country.
It's also enough time to realize you can't learn everything about the juvenile justice system from watching Law and Order. So I've been to Jefferson Parish Juvenile Court every week to observe, to witness superb advocacy, and to learn our children's stories.
The money raised tonight goes directly towards services provided to children who are in Jefferson Parish's foster care system.
All of these children have one thing in common: someone who was supposed to care for them did not do so.
CASA strives to make sure these children have another thing in common: a voice in court.
CASA advocates spend 8-15 hours each month talking to everyone in a foster child's life, from coaches and teachers to doctors and social workers. They testify under oath about what is the best interest of the child, which could mean more tutoring, more extracurricular activities, or more visits with Dad.
In 2013, 75% of our advocates' recommendations became orders of the court.
Historically in Jefferson Parish, about 85% of CASA children whose case closed received a permanent placement. This means that 85% of our children were adopted by or reunified with people committed to care for them. For life.
On my second day as CASA's Executive Director, I put on a suit jacket and some new lipstick and went to court. I had previously only been in courthouses as part of field trips or jury duty... but a thousand friends have made the ill-advised decision to attend law school, so surely I could manage.
The first case I heard is one of a girl I'll call Emily. She had been abused by her stepfather unbeknownst to her mother. She was removed from her home and sent to a series of different schools. She participated in therapy. All of this just made her miss her mom more. Her mother divorced, found a new home, and tried to spend as much time with her child as possible.
At this hearing, the judge decided to reunify mother and child. Emily, who had been relatively reserved, as teenagers are wont to be, jumped out of her chair and exclaimed: "I get to go home?! You mean, I get to be a normal kid again?!!!!"
And, in that moment, I began to get it.
My job is to help extraordinary children feel normal.
Thank you all for making that possible.
For those of you who missed the gala but who would still like to contribute to our cause, please visit our donation website.