By Holly Penta
The Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Awareness Social’s Keynote Speaker, First Lady of Louisiana Donna Edwards, spoke about issues of child safety. CASA of Central Louisiana helps protect children in Natchitoches, Sabine, and Red River parishes who have been neglected by the foster care system.
Edwards commended CASA for being the eyes and ears of the judicial system and said, “If we bring everyone to the table with different mindsets we can all work together to find solutions to protect these children.”
She explained how the state government is working to increase funding for identifying instances of child abuse and neglect and providing even more protection for victims. She said, “Like with so many things, education is key.” She said it’s important to encourage parents and all adults to have an open discussion with their children or any children in their lives about the dangers that are out there. Throughout her speech, she referred to all children of Louisiana, specifically those in need, as “our children” and repeated the idea that since they “belong to us,” everyone can help.
Before the First Lady spoke, two CASA advocates shared their stories. Terri Cedars, a former teacher, spoke about what lead to her involvement in CASA. Although she loved teaching, she found that being there for the children from 8am- 3pm was not enough. As a CASA advocate, she is now able to “try to be the light” in the lives of children who truly need guidance.
Breelin Johnson told the success story of the first child he was assigned to. The young man eventually aged out of the system and stayed in contact with Johnson. He says the help CASA provides is beneficial to the children and the advocates and that overall the work is “productive and fulfilling.” Being able to help kids, all of whom “have so much potential, but just need someone to help focus them,” is incredibly rewarding to him and all the CASA Advocates and volunteers.
Larry Paige, CASA Board President, made special mention of Thomas and Pearlie Lacey of Natchez, Louisiana. This couple have fostered children for 48 years.
Overall, the event shined a light on the ever-present issue of child abuse and neglect and celebrated those who have taken time and effort to make a difference.
Pillars of CASA is a way for the Natchitoches community to provide a base of support through monetary donations. This is an opportunity for people to become involved if they’re unable to become an advocate, due to time constraints or other issues. For more information call (318) 238-2446.