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CASAblanca gala raises bids for kids
Elaine Gerke gets a plate of food Saturday during the CASAblanca gala at the Chattahoochee Country Club in Gainesville. The event was held to raise funds for Hall-Dawson Court Appointed Special Advocates. - photo by Erin O. Smith

For some children, a trip to grandmother’s is not picturesque.

Janet Walden, new executive director of the Hall-Dawson Court-Appointed Special Advocate program, described her own children’s trip to their grandmother’s as a positive experience.

“They know they are loved,” Walden said in her speech Saturday at the ninth annual CASAblanca gala. “Our CASA kids aren’t so lucky.”

The event at the Chattahoochee Country Club in Gainesville also celebrated former CASAS director Connie Stephens, who retired after 27 years with the program. She was given a “Champion for Children Award” for her service.

The CASAblanca dinner is the organization’s largest fundraiser. People could bid on collectibles, family day passes, food-related items and more in the night’s auction held to raise money.

Seven years ago, Walden started working for CASA and saw the struggles of the children the organization supports.

“I learned that life is difficult and chaotic for kids who are in foster care,” Walden said.

The organization runs off state and federal grants, plus donations from the community and volunteer support. Across the state, around 2,300 volunteers spend their spare time helping 10,000 kids.

“One thing I know about CASA is that we have the best volunteers,” Walden said.

Linda Wagner is one such volunteer and a child advocate. She usually has at least four cases, which means she is a “middle man” between the state and the child.

“I represent the child,” said Wagner, who also is a board member. “I represent the best interest of the child.”

Wagner’s husband, Bob Wagner, sees his wife’s impact regularly.

“I think it’s great,” he said. “The difference I see in these kids is just incredible.”

At any given time, CASA has about 400 to 500 active cases, a number rising over time. This year, 600 children have been helped, up from 500 last year.

“I don’t even know how much money it saves for the county,” Wagner said, as the program relieves the state of appointing a lawyer to each case.

The Hall-Dawson County chapter of CASA is one of the largest in the nation, Wagner said.

Diane Hathaway, wife of Georgia CASA Director Duaine Hathaway, visits the chapters regularly with him.

“(CASA gives) the best advantage to the kids who need it,” she said.

Not only does CASA help children, but it also tries to help their families, board member Ken Roberts said.

“It’s a very worthwhile cause,” Roberts said. “For some of them, who knows where they would be (without CASA).”

“Sometimes there’s nowhere else for them to go,” said Roberts’ wife, Carolyn.

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