FORTY FORT — Walking into The Room at 900 on Thursday night, one might believe they were whisked away to 1942.
CASA of Luzerne County staged its third annual “Evening in CASAblanca” gala, offering a nearly sold-out crowd the opportunity to relive the classic Humphrey Bogart movie while assisting the child advocacy organization.
As the nearly 350 guests made their way around vintage suitcases full of trinkets, character cutouts and table games such as blackjack and roulette, event co-chairs Lynn McCarthy and Stefanie Crothers reminisced on a year of breaking records.
“Our class in the spring was the largest ever,” McCarthy said of the 14 volunteer advocates that put in six to eight weeks, or about 40 hours, of training.
CASA — or Court Appointed Special Advocates — recruits advocate volunteers to act as a voice for abused or neglected children within Luzerne County. The organization’s goal is to help provide a safe, permanent home for children so they may grow to become healthy, empowered adults.
Currently, Crothers said there are over 450 children within the Luzerne County foster system awaiting advocates.
“Our hope is to have an advocate for each child in need,” she said. “Our mission right now is 90 in 20, which is (hitting) 90 advocates in 2020.”
The nonprofit holds two training sessions per year, said executive director John Aciukewicz, and has seen steady growth since CASA’s implementation within the county in 2013. In just a year alone, Aciukewicz said volunteers have doubled in number, allowing the organization to help 30 percent more children in need.
“We have more volunteer advocates than last year, we’re serving more children than last year, we’ve been able to increase our staff because of the financial support and therefore we’re able to recruit, support and train more volunteer advocates,” he said.
A speaker at the event, Luzerne County Judge Jennifer Rogers explained how instrumental an advocate is not only to a child, but to the courts as well. Rogers said she has been working with CASA for the past seven years, noting the individuals who act as a volunteers demonstrate courage, tenacity and humility.
“Throughout those seven years, I’ve observed a force for good in action,” she said. “I’ve observed volunteers from all walks of life devote their time and their talent to to their assigned cases.”
Cheering on her colleague, Judge Tina Polachek Gartley said she was proud of the organization she helped bring to the area. She said she recognized its significance and the impact it could make on children in need.
“We’re just really proud that it’s finally in our community and doing so well,” she added.
The fall volunteer advocate training session begins Oct. 3. To learn more or to apply to become an advocate, visit Luzernecasa.org
The Times Leader was a media sponsor of the gala.