CASAblanca was a night of extraordinary people coming together to support a worthy cause. As one of my favorite galas, I had high expectations before attending the event, and it did not disappoint. The atmosphere exuded energy as people talked and played casino games before the program began. I got the chance to speak with this year’s chair, Rhonda Chandler, who has been a CASA volunteer for five years.
Due to her childhood, Rhonda had a lot to say about the true worth that CASA brings to the community and the children it works with. “I was an abused child and no one was there to protect me,” she told me. This motivated her to get involved and make a direct impact on the lives of CASA’s children. She and other volunteers agree that there is nothing more rewarding than being there for a child who has not had anyone by their side and whose parents have often neglected them.
Last year, CASA exceeded expectations and helped children across Travis county by giving them a Court Appointed Special Advocate. Also in 2012, CASA of Travis County proudly accepted an award from the national CASA organization for their outstanding work helping abused and neglected children here in Texas. The volunteers, staff, and community worked with 1525 children in 2012, but there is always more to do. Last year, 650 kids went without a CASA who could have been aided by them. CASAblanca and the attendees dedicated themselves to working towards making that number zero and helping children and adults break the cycle of abuse.
The gala honored the Topfer Family Foundation who has worked alongside CASA and with other organizations to help abused children. As one of the members said “success for children and families begins in a safe and healthy home.” The night proceeded with the live auction led by Gayle Stallings of FUNauctions. As always, she was a delightful success and the live auction and Fund-a-Need brought in nearly 300,000 dollars. Highlights included the two signed guitars, one by Michael Jackson and one by the Eagles which were sold for 12,000 and 9,500 respectively. Of course, the best piece that was auctioned off was the one of a kind “Star Child” created by Zoltan David specifically for CASA. Rhonda Chandler approached him about donating but he took things to the next level by designing a work that reflects the children who go through the program. Karen and George Manson won the bid for 20,000 dollars after outbidding themselves to close the deal. Karen mentioned that her wedding ring was also a Zoltan creation and hugged the artist with tears in her eyes when presented with the pendant. She also volunteers for CASA and has worked with 16 children in 12 years.
Karen’s husband bought her the item so she could remember all the children she has helped and be reminded of how much they touched her life. The other wonderful surprise came during the Fund-a-Need when executive director Laura Wolf announced that an anonymous donor had said they would match all donations during that portion up to 100,000 dollars.
The night had a number of moving moments especially when we were shown the story of Nelly and Elvira, a young woman and her volunteer who were part of the video presentation and who were there on the night. Also in attendance was the Honorable Darlene Byrne, Judge of the 126th District Court, and Representative Paul Workman who have both worked with CASA. The other activities during the night were a wine pull and the casino games which raised money for the organization. The wine pull took place over the course of the night, and, for 100 dollars, people could grab a cork that connected them to a wine bottle and possible other surprise gift. All in all, I would call the gala a great success, one that will allow CASA to continue their mission advocating for abused children in the Austin community.