Surrounded by the Cherish The Children Luncheon VIPs in the Omni Dallas’ Southside Room, Anthony Trucks looked right at home with locals like Erin Finegold White, Alison Panasik, Patty Leyendecker, Christie Carter, Caroline Rose Hunt, Dedie Leahy and Luncheon Co-Chairs Erin Jesberger and Aubrey Labanowski on Monday, April 9. Little did many of them know that the night before, he had also been right at home with youngsters in foster homes, their foster parents and Dallas CASA advocates. He knew their questions before they were asked; he knew the challenges they faced; he knew their fears because he had been one of them. Before giving a brief presentation to the group, he talked with each of the kids individually. After he spoke to the group en masse, he took questions addressing each youth by name. At first the raised hands were sparse and the kids were hesitant. But soon the questions were nonstop and Dallas CASA Executive Director/President Kathleen LaValle had to pull the plug on the get together.
But on Monday it was a different situation for the fundraiser presented by Dallas CASA Children’s Council and benefiting Dallas CASA. The guests had never been foster children. Or, at least, that’s what they thought. But more about that later.
As the VIP reception broke up, the guests joined the 325+ others in the Trinity Ballroom lobby where one-of-a-kind children’s furniture was up for bid in the silent auction. Easily Anthony moved through the crowd appearing to most to be just another of the guest. At one point he talked with Dallas Mavericks Interim CEO Cynt Marshall. It was like they were old friends.
But soon the chimes called the group including judges (Chief Judge Barbara Lynn, Mary Brown, Kim Cooks, Danielle Diaz, Andrea Martin, Audrey Morehead, Derrick Morrison, Graciela Olvera, Andrea Plumlee, Alice Rodriguez, Andrew Ten Eyck and Donald Turner), elected officials, (Clay Jenkins, Theresa Daniel and Elba Garcia), Dallas CASA board members (Suzanne Bryan, Barbara Cervin, Cynthia Comparin, Janice Davis, John Gibson, Vicky Gunning, Jim Lozier, Greg and Hannah May, Retta Miller, Steve Penrose, Susan Rankin, Kristy Hoglund Robinson, Virginia Schaefer, Teresa Stevenson and Linda Swartz to the Trinity Ballroom with the stage with two cherry blossoms and front and center between two mega screens on either center.
At high noon a video featuring foster children, foster parents and advocates got underway. Not only did it describe the importance of Dallas CASA, it also got everyone settle in their places. No sooner had the video ended, then Co-Chairs Erin and Aubrey were at the podium. Aubrey started off by acknowledging the advocates, attorneys and government officials in the room. She pointed out that in the last five years, the number of volunteers had doubled. Then a thermometer appeared on the screens. Aubrey explained that a $15,000 match challenge had been made.
Then Erin told of her own childhood being raised in a middle-class dysfunctional family. So much so, that she ended up living with the family that she babysat for. Upon moving to Dallas, she knew from firsthand experience how Dallas CASA was made for her volunteer efforts. Her first assignment was Michael, who was born with drugs in his system thanks to his mother. Over the days and weeks in NICU, the professionals provided the best healthcare. On the other hand, Erin would hold and provide the compassionate care. Michael eventually survived the withdrawal and was adopted by a wonderful couple, who had tried for years to have a baby. They’ve kept Erin posted on Michael’s growth and reported that there had been no signs of the drugs after-effects. They were also planning on adopting another child, so Michael would have a sibling.
At 12:19, Kathleen LaValle presented an eight-minute video on the 2018 Caroline Rose Hunt Cherish The Children Awardee The Hon. Cheryl Lee Shannon as a life-changing courtroom authority. But upon accepting the award, the preconceived idea of her being a stern was dismissed as she was just downright thrilled at the recognition and sharing it with many of her staff and friends.
At this point the guests started eating.
Just before 12:45 Dallas CASA Children’s Council President Hannah May introduced Anthony, who hopped up on stage sans his jacket. The thermometer was just a little above the $3,000 mark and disappeared from the screen.
He started off by telling of his first memory — being given away. His mother had handed him over to foster care. In one of his first foster homes, he was placed in a chicken coop. If he caught a chicken, he got to eat. In another home he would be put in a shopping cart and shoved down the road. When it made it down the street and dumped him, the cart and Anthony would be taken back to the top of the hill for a repeat run.
By six, he had shut own. He wanted to go home to his real mom. Then he went to still another home, but this one was different. Things changed and he was taken care of. Still he was the only black in an all-white family. He continued to act out, but from six to 14, his advocate stood by him.
As for his real mother, he described her as a pathological liar. She would call him and tell him to pack his things because she would pick him up at 8. But she never showed.
But this new family didn’t give up and at the age of 14, they adopted him. He now had his own bed, his own pillow. He got the opportunity to play sports. Before this time, he thought his biological mother hadn’t loved him because he wasn’t good. But now he realized that he mattered.
Anthony went on to college, to play professional football, to open a gym and to see the world. But all these “gifts” were the results of living through the hardships. As he put it, “Life is comprised of gifts that are wrapped in barbed wire.” Anthony had decided that by holding on to the barbed wire wrapped gift made his hands tougher and tougher. Then he suggested that in order to get through the barbed wire, tools were necessary to open the gift. By going through all of that, the appreciation of the gift was much greater.
Then he added that the first gift is the most gratifying. As more gifts are opened, that initial sense of gratification has lost a bit of the shine. He suggested there was a way to keep that first gift feeling by helping someone else.”
In closing he told how on 2/11/14, he sat by his adopted mother’s bedside as her years of struggling with multiple sclerosis ended. It as that moment that he realized that despite her illness, she had impacted him through the years never giving up on him. “I was in a place where I was not supposed to be because someone impacted me.” He made it his mission to impact others by sharing his story and inspiring others. Before leaving the stage, he suggested that each of the audience ask how they would impact others.
Dallas CASA Board of Directors Chair Bob Schleckser replaced Anthony on stage and the thermometer appeared on the screens filled to the brim. But Bob reported that more than $21,154 had been texted in. Adding that to the $15,000 match, the texted take was more than $36,000. That resulted in the day’s net of $130,000. Anthony evidently had made an impact.