Children's Voice September/October 2008

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Spotlight On

New Mexico CASA Programs Raise Funds, Awareness at Events

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Within an organization composed of advocates, Julie Fallin is the variation on the theme, the advocate for the advocates. As New Mexico Court Appointed Special Advocates' (CASA) program coordinator, she helps local CASA groups--18 programs with 23 offices--fulfill their mission. "My job, in the position I hold, is to just support their needs," she says.

"Our goal in the state is to have a volunteer for every child, and right now we're about halfway there," Fallin continues. To achieve that goal, each CASA must raise both awareness and funds, and several local programs stand out to Fallin as success stories on those two fronts. She likes to see one community's lessons and experiences benefit another. "We're a very wide-open network," she says. "Nobody invents anything if they don't have to." Sharing ideas means local groups can experiment to see what brings them success. "Every community has such a different face," Fallin explains. "You have to try some things to find out what works."

Doreen Gallegos is the executive director of the Mesilla Valley CASA. For the past few years, her CASA's fundraisers have brought big city entertainment to Las Cruces. Two years ago they presented a murder mystery dinner theater program, and last year they had an illusionist perform. "We put on a show--whatever it is," Gallegos says. "People have a lot of fun."

About 300 people have come to both shows, and because the murder mystery tends to go better with a smaller crowd, they are planning on having the illusionist back for another Dance of Illusion in February. The evening includes dinner, music from a local band, giveaways for the audience and a silent auction. At $50 a ticket, Gallegos says it's "a lot of bang for the buck." But most of the revenue comes from advertising in the program and table sponsorships. "We've definitely built relationships, we have several [sponsors] that I know that we can count on every year," Gallegos says. The funds have allowed the Mesilla Valley CASA to expand its programs; recently they've opened a visitation center, which wouldn't have been possible without the money from the shows.

People look forward to the annual event. "We've already sold our first table for next year, and we're still over six months out," Gallegos says. Her team has talked about expanding; they've considered larger venues and doing shows on two nights. The performances also help raise awareness of the need for advocates. Gallegos says that an evening of entertainment lures in people who have never heard of CASA, but the show program comes packed with information about CASA's mission and activities. Gallegos has seen a boost in the number of volunteers after the shows, and plans a training day to announce during the event.

Further east, in Hobbs, the annual fundraiser for the CASA of Lea County is a parade of homes. CASA partners with Habitat for Humanity for the four-year-old event, dubbed the Tour of Habitats and CASAs. Executive director Anita Braun explained that Sheryl Reid, founding board member for the local organization, wanted the fledgling CASA to have a signature event to raise its profile in the community. A steering committee with board members from CASA and Habitat, along with unaffiliated community members, organizes the four-home tour, which takes place in September.

"This has been a wonderful windfall for us, we don't have to do any other fundraisers," Braun says. Habitat and CASA evenly split the proceeds from the event, which brings in $50,000 to $60,000 yearly. Braun estimates the tour drew 500 participants the first year and has doubled in size since. "But the bigger impact is through the sponsorships," Braun continues. "People are not telling us 'no' anymore; they want to be involved." Sponsors enjoy perks including a cocktail party, a preview of the homes, and a number of complimentary tickets.

Every ticket is a chance for someone new to learn about the organizations hosting the tour; informational DVDs about CASA play on a loop in the houses. Braun says the tour has prompted people to get involved with the groups. She recalls a man who approached her about being a financial sponsor and volunteer. "The CASA idea really spoke to his heart, because he was adopted as a child," she explains. Braun highlights two aspects of the Hobbs tour that contribute to its success: partnering with Habitat for Humanity and having a steering committee with community members from outside the two organizations.

Neighboring Chaves County, home to Roswell, also has a fundraiser the community eagerly awaits. Called Make Time for Children, the event couldn't have a more literal name: Area artists make clocks that are auctioned off to benefit CASA. This year's was the sixth event; they are scheduled around the beginning of Daylight Savings Time when clocks "spring ahead." Local orthodontist Michael Taylor was the "mastermind" who came up with the idea and approached CASA. It proved so successful that volunteer coordinator Mary Colby says it has been duplicated in other areas of New Mexico.

CASA provides the mechanical parts of the clocks, and the artists create the housing, according to Colby. Common materials include papier mâché, wood, and ceramics, but other media crop up as well. "We've had one where they made a sculpture out of pennies ... We actually had someone make one one year out of a commode, which was very interesting," Colby says. "You can't even imagine the creativity."

Two years ago, the event added a raffle for donated items to expand on the Make Time theme: a spa package can make time for relaxing, a vacuum helps make time for cleaning, and so on. The clocks can get pricey; the minimum bid is $25 but clocks have sold for over $1,000. In the raffle, people get a strand of raffle tickets for $20, so those who can't pay for a clock have a way to participate. Corporate sponsorships also add to the event's revenue.

Last year there were nearly 100 clockmakers, and this year there were a few more than 100. In addition to area artists, clockmakers have been some of the children served by CASA, and creative community members. Colby says that Chaves County CASA has a steady flow of volunteers year-round and doesn't see a spike after the Make Time event, but wide press attention means it garners awareness for CASA.

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