Celebrating its 20th anniversary at the Fairmont, Dallas CASA‘s Champion of Children Award Dinner proved to be both a celebration for those providing foster children protection in the legal system, as well as emphasizing the long-term results of the program. On Thursday, November 16, guests at the annual dinner included a large contingency from the Junior League of Dallas and rightly so, since JLD not only received the Judge Barefoot Sanders Champion of Children Award, but former JLD President Christie Carter was the award dinner’s honorary chair.
Perhaps the highlight of the evening was speaker Jackie Davis, who told of his first-hand experience as a Dallas CASA “client” and staffer. Here is a report from the field:
A record-breaking crowd of 525 guests packed The Fairmont Dallas for Dallas CASA’s 20th anniversary Champion of Children Award Dinner, which raised more than $500,000 for non-profit organization.
The evening honored the Junior League of Dallas with the Judge Barefoot Sanders Champion of Children Award for its commitment and service to children in our community. The award was presented to League President Jennifer Tobin by Dallas CASA board member Jim Lozier. Featured speaker Jackie Davis brought the crowd to tears with stories from his childhood. Removed from his biological parents at 18 months told, Jackie had a failed adoption at age five before cycling through 14 foster homes before another adoption at age 13. Through it all, he had his Dallas CASA volunteer Marlys Rizos.
“I realized through her that my life may not be picture perfect, but it’s how I respond to that imperfection that matters,” he said. “I knew Superman was an orphan, but he was an orphan with special powers. She helped me see I didn’t need special powers.”
What dinner guests may not have seen between Jackie’s stylish suit and his black leather Converse high-top sneakers was a pair of royal blue Superman socks.
“Children come into this world with a light, but it’s only as bright as those who stand behind them and support them,” he said. “My light shone because of her.”
We hear stories like Jackie’s, but to hear it in his own words and through the eyes of the child was remarkable. He was alternately heartbreaking and heartbreakingly funny. He showed his WFAA “Wednesday’s Child” segment with Gloria Campos filmed when he was 11 years old and looking for another adoptive home. He told the crowd about a foster mother who wore muumuus every day, much to fashionable Jackie’s dismay. His first time to be in a courtroom, at age 11, he said out loud when the judge entered the courtroom: “What? The judge wears a muumuu, too?”
The many judges, including Andrea Martin and Cheryl Lee Shannon, attending the dinner laughed in delight.
Jackie’s Dallas CASA volunteer came to represent what he wanted in life. He’s now graduated from the University of North Texas with a bachelor’s in social work and received his master’s in social work from the University of Texas at Arlington earlier this year. He’s working as a volunteer supervisor at Dallas CASA, guiding foster children and their volunteer advocates through the same relationships that so altered his own life.
“I learned so much from Marlys,” he said. “When children come into foster care, their lives are pulled apart like a puzzle. Marlys worked from the outside in, putting me back together. She didn’t ask about my pain without knowing my favorite color and favorite foods.
She got to know Jackie, told him he was loved and showed him what a functional family looked like for the first time in his life. She advocated for him to stay with foster siblings he had grown attached to and for him to meet his baby biological siblings for the first time. Marlys represented a different way of life to Jackie. After he was adopted into a loving family, Jackie lost touch with Marlys. However, a few years ago he reconnected with her and her family. Sadly, Marlys passed away this year.
To wrap up his speech, Jackie brought to the stage Marlys’ grandson, Kyle Rizos, who completed his CASA training and was going to be sworn in the next day as a court-appointed special advocate. Kyle received his own standing ovation.
Event co-chairs were Priscilla and Corey Anthony and Laura and John Losinger; honorary chair was longtime Dallas CASA supporter and former Junior League President Christie Carter.
Dallas CASA Board of Directors member Cynt Marshall introduced Jackie, moving the crowd with photos and stories of her own three children all adopted out of foster care.
“Good things can always come out of bad things, particularly when you have someone who cares about you,” Marshall told the crowd. “Your return on investment here is a changed life.”
Other Dallas CASA board members in attendance included outgoing board chair John Gibson, Dave Kroenke, Greg May, Jonathan Bassham and incoming board chair and ExxonMobil treasurer, Bob Schleckser.
Also part of the captivated audience was Caroline Rose Hunt, Lisa and Clay Cooley, Pam Busbee and her daughter Beverly Dealey, Sarah and Alan Losinger, Debbie Oates and Jenny and Trevor Rees-Jones III.
* Photo credit: Kristina Bowman