“What are we doing tonight, Cynt?”
Greg May, co-chair of Dallas CASA‘s 2019 Champion of Children Award Dinner along with Hannah May, Janice and Richard Davis and Virginia and Edward Schaefer, shouted the question out from the lectern to Cynt Marshall, a Dallas CASA board member.
Shot back Cynt from the audience at the Omni Dallas Hotel: “We’re raisin’ money for the honeys!”
With roughly 500 guests in attendance — the first sold-out house in the dinner’s history — the Champion of Children dinner on Thursday, November 14, raised lots of money indeed for Dallas CASA, which “advocates in the courtroom and the community for children in the protective care of the state.”
Guests included the likes of the late Barefoot Sander‘s widow Jan Sanders, Dallas First Lady Nakita Johnson, Priscilla and Corey Anthony, Beverly Levy, Bob Schleckser, Robert Mason, Bill Smith, Donna Harvey, Paul Stafford, Rob Swartz, Michael Swartz, Pam Fletcher, Katie Pribyl, Jim Thompson, Absalome Lane, Robert Mason, Clay Jenkins, Regina Montoya and Paul Coggins, Barbara Levy, Pam Fletcher, Dr. Elba Garcia, J.J. Koch, Bela Cooley and Christie Carter, plus a variety of juvenile and family court judges (Cheryl Lee Shannon, Sandra Jackson and Andrea Martin- Lane).
The evening’s highlight arguably was presentation of the 2019 Judge Barefoot Sanders Champion of Children Award to Jessica and Dirk Nowitzi. Said Dallas CASA President and CEO Kathleen LaValle: “Our children need role models and real heroes. Dirk and Jessica have been both.”
The award was formally presented by Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson — he was Honorary Co-chair of the event along with his wife Nakita Johnson — to Jessica and Dirk for their ongoing commitment to making the lives of children better.
Dirk, the now-retired forward for the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, “was a bona fide superstar, but he felt like a friend,” Eric told the crowd. “He invested both time and money in our city. Following the [October] EF3 tornadoes, he reached out to me personally and said, ‘What can I do to help our city?’ He and Clayton [Kershaw] came to our Emergency Operations Center and bought dinner for all the employees. I am most proud to be able to call Jessica and Dirk friends of mine and, most importantly, friends of Dallas!”
Accepting the award, Jessica credited her mother for teaching her that “charity begins at home,” while Dirk thanked his teammates who served as mentors both off and on the court.
After attendees tucked into a delicious dinner of macerated fig salad and short rib and salmon, they heard from keynote speaker Judge Rosemarie Aquilina. Rosemarie was the presiding judge in the 2018 Michigan trial of Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics team doctor who molested hundreds of young gymnasts. Nassar was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison, and Rosemarie drew nationwide praise for allowing more than 150 victims to deliver powerful impact statements in her courtroom.
“There’s no more important role in this world except to take care of our children,” she said. “I want those girls to know that he will never be free to abuse again.”
The judge said that those helping Dallas CASA grow and become more effective are “changemakers,” adding that “this CASA is a role model” for the United States and the world.
* Photo credit:Kristina Bowman ** Photo credit: Jason Voinov *** Photo credit: Rosanne Lewis