More than 400 guests filed into the Omni Dallas Hotel’s Trinity Ballroom on Friday, April 5 for the annual Cherish the Children Luncheon benefiting Dallas CASA. Under Dallas CASA President and CEO Kathleen LaValle, attendees including Terry Goods, Evelyn Henry Miller, Jamal Carty, Susan Flanagan, Rob Swartz, Jada Mowles, Megan Sterquell, Leigh Danley, Erin Jesberger, Karen Carney, Sally Hoglund, Kristy Hoglund Robinson, Stewart Bul, Gina Porter, Mackenzie Porter, Molly Porter, Randall Porter, Nicki and Paul Stafford, Hannah and Greg May, John Dziminski, Lynn Mahurin, Ken Marshall, Lisa Cooley, Ciara Cooley, Emma Staak and Christie Carter learned that the nonprofit that helps abused and neglected children navigate the courts has doubled its number of trained volunteer advocates (they’re officially known as “Court Appointed Special Advocates”) in five years. One of the many CASAs in the packed crowd was Bela Cooley, who has made life a little better for a young boy who’s both blind and paralyzed. Here’s a report from the field:
Dallas CASA’s Cherish the Children luncheon paid homage to a longtime friend of Dallas CASA, the late Caroline Rose Hunt, with touches of her legacy everywhere.
The now-permanently renamed Caroline Rose Hunt Cherish the Children Award was given to Rosewood for its longtime contributions to bettering the lives of children in Dallas. Accepting the award were Caroline’s children Laurie Sands Harrison and Patrick Sands. Laurie shared with the audience how her mother had always had a charitable bent, honed during a childhood in the Great Depression. Caroline’s mother used to leave food out on a side porch during the depression, and young Caroline wondered aloud why she would do that.
“They’re not bad people,” Caroline’s mother told her. “Just something bad happened to them, and we can help them.” That lesson never left Caroline, and she made it a family value to support her local community.
Dallas CASA’s trained and supervised community volunteers advocate for abused and neglected children. All funds raised at the luncheon will help ensure that these children have advocates walking alongside them as they navigate a complicated child welfare system. The event, which was hosted by Dallas CASA Children’s Council, was co-chaired by Gina Porter and Nicki Stafford.
The luncheon began with chipotle-roasted tomato soup en croute, followed by an entrée salad with ancho honey-spiced chicken breast. Dessert paid homage to Caroline and her long-shuttered Lady Primrose Tea Room, featuring cucumber dill tea sandwiches, a mini macaroon and a mini scone with strawberry clotted cream. Tables were set with mixed china settings, china tea cups, pink napkins and bright pink and purple flowers arrangements in turquoise vases, also in honor of Caroline.
Guest speaker Steve Pemberton, author of “A Chance in the World,” shared with the audience his personal story of growing up in an abusive foster home not knowing who his parents were. An African-American boy with blue eyes, light skin and a thick Boston accent, Pemberton said child welfare workers struggled to know what to do with him.
“If people responsible for my care has cared less about what I was and more about who I was, they would have seen a young boy searching for a home,” he said.
But a series of people he calls “lighthouses” saw through what was happening to Steve and served as beacons of hope for him. A neighbor with boxes of books, a teacher who agreed to take Steve in, a spelling bee judge — all provided affirmation for Steve that he was seen and heard.
“You never forget the first person who sees you not for your circumstances but for your possibilities,” he said. “Without my lighthouses, I would not be here today.”
The Cherish the Children luncheon raised funds that will allow Dallas CASA to serve more children in need of an advocate. An anonymous donor gave a $20,000 matching gift, and luncheon guests rose to the challenge by meeting and exceeding the $20,000 gift. The numbers are still being totaled, but the luncheon’s silent auction of handmade children’s chairs and other items raised record-breaking funds for Dallas CASA.
Many Dallas County child welfare dignitaries were in attendance, including Dallas County Commissioners Court Judge Clay Jenkins and commissioners Dr. Theresa Daniel and J.J. Koch. Judges Ten Eyck and Don Turner were also on hand for the event. Dallas CASA board members attending included Suzanne Bryan, Christie Carter, John Gibson, Terry Goods, Erin Jesberger, Cynt Marshall, Hannah and Greg May, Evelyn Henry Miller, Steve Penrose, Kristy Hoglund Robinson, Kerry Scott and Linda Swartz.
* Photo credit: Kristina Bowman