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Students raise money to buy presents for foster children
Flowery Branch High School junior Kylie Fain, 16, moves a pile of gifts Wednesday for children who are part of CASA, or Court Appointed Special Advocates, during a holiday party at the school. Members from DECA and the student council coordinated together to collect gifts for children in need this holiday season - photo by SARA GUEVARA

For children who have been removed from their homes because of abuse or neglect, the holiday season can be a difficult time.

However, students at Flowery Branch High School have worked to make Christmas a little brighter for local foster families this year.

The students raised more than $10,000 to purchase gifts for 55 children with Court Appointed Special Advocates. The presents were distributed Wednesday at a the school's third annual Christmas party for the organization.

"You can see in their faces how much it means to them when they get the gifts. They're just awestruck," said Carla Cannon, a special advocate for children in Hall and Dawson counties.

CASA assists neglected children in the courts system and helps see they are placed in stable home environments.

Cannon said the holidays can be a financial hardship for many foster families, who may have up to five children, including their own.

"That's one reason this is so important for them each year," Cannon said.

The high school has banded together over the last nine years to raise money for abused and neglected children in Hall County.

The after-school Christmas party began in 2008.

This year, students sold boxes of local fruit in their communities as well as ski hats and sweatshirts to raise the money. Money was also donated from students, school staff and local businesses.

Senior Chloe Boullon, student council president, has been involved with the fundraising drive since her freshman year. It's a personal issue, as her family has adopted two foster children.

She said one of her favorite parts of the event is buying for the children. Though the drive is run by DECA and the Student Council, students from several of the school's clubs participate in the shopping trip.

"We have information sheets with their ages and clothing sizes," Boullon said. "We actually spend half the money on clothes. Kids may want something as simple as a winter coat. Things we might take for granted. And it's fun for us as teens because we can make sure they look cute."

Each child received about $175 worth of presents, including stockings filled with candy and small items from the Christmas party.

Lynn Townley, who has fostered 15 children over six years, attended the party Wednesday for her 10-week old foster child. She said she knows many families, including her own, who benefit each year.

"I appreciate what they do, and it helps both the parents and kids. I don't want this to stop, this is something we need," Townley said.

DECA advisor Ricky Darracott said the drive is part of a service learning project at the school and fundraising for the event began in November.

"I told the student we can't change what happened to them but we can show them love for one day," Darracott said.

Cannon said the organization hopes to partner with other high schools in the future to help sponsor more CASA children at Christmas.