More than 200 people crammed into the Mule Barn at Destrehan Plantation last weekend to raise money and awareness for at-risk youths from across the southeast Louisiana region.
This was the scene at the annual Sundresses and Shrimp Boots fundraiser for Child Advocacy Services (CAS). Although those attending the event were obviously enjoying their company, the bigger purpose at hand was raising funds for those in society who need it the most.
CAS is a private, non-profit agency with a mission to advocate on behalf of foster children and provide healing and security to other at-risk youth. One of CAS’s most important programs is Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) that connects foster children with impartial community members who work on their behalf as a mediator between the court system and their families.
One of those former foster care children who could have used help through CAS was in attendance.
The Department of Children and Family Services was first called on Devan Petersen’s mother when she was 5 years old, but it would not be until nine years later when she was 14 that she was finally removed from her mother’s care after which she stayed in foster care until age 18.
“Within those four years I didn’t have an advocate and I took 14 years of abuse from my mother, who was a single mom, very heavy on drugs and on and off of work,” Petersen said. Petersen, who is a former CASA state board member, said if she had a CASA working to help her, her path into adulthood would have likely been much smoother.
“I wasn’t adopted, I moved six times in four years and if I had a CASA then it would have been an easy transition. I believe that CASA is amazing and we need more volunteers.
There is like 5,000 kids in foster care and they need somebody to speak out because they are scared. I remember being scared,” she said.
Now 24 years old, Petersen devotes herself to working with foster children who are preparing to “age out” of foster care and live on their own for the first time. She said services such as those provided by CASA and CAS are in dire need for those kids.
“They don’t know life skills, they don’t know how to wash their clothes or how to cook for themselves or even how to turn up the thermostat when it is cold,” she said. “I want them to know it is not just the abuse we go through, it is the after effects once these kids age out of foster care when they don’t get adopted.”
According to Petersen, part of that need is provided through fundraisers such as Sundresses and Shrimp Boots. In fact, the event was just a kickoff party for the 2014 Cottages for CASA Playhouse Raffle in which CAS will be raffling off two custom designed playhouses and a week-long beach stay in November.
Lauren Williams, CAS community outreach coordinator, said the kickoff event is the biggest fundraiser CAS holds all year and the staff puts a lot of work it.
“Sundresses and Shrimp Boots is almost a year round event from the time we start planning to actually having the event, wrapping everything up, thanking donors, then we go into cottages. By the time we are finished with one year it is time to start the next year. It almost never ends,” she said.
With all of that hard work paying off, Ginger Cangelosi, CAS community outreach director, said raising awareness and bringing funds to their program is essential for the well being of area foster children.
“Our mission is to serve children. We give voice, healing and strength to children through our two programs CASA and through our Children’s Advocacy Centers. Through those two programs we serve children,” she said.
The raffle campaign is ongoing and those interested in helping out with the fundraiser can buy tickets up until the raffle is held on Nov. 19.
To purchase tickets or learn more about CAS you can go online at www.childadv.net or call (800) 798-1575.