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CASA commends caring, hope
Advocates, others hailed for efforts
CASA
Susan Gant, left, applauds Toni Flowers as her name is called during the CASA awards ceremony. - photo by Autumn McBride

Honorees
The following people were 2011 CASA Light of Hope Award recipients: Susan Bradbury, Janie Buchanan, Ruth Bullard, Jim Cheatham, Jerry Dupree, Michele Francis, Katie Kinney, Kathy Minzey, Lisa Ouztes, Debbie Rondem and Julie Wilson.

How to help
To learn more about CASA, call (770) 886-4082 or visit www.forsythcountycasa.org.

A number of people have been honored as lights of hope for children by Forsyth County Court Appointed Special Advocates.

The annual Light of Hope Award Ceremony celebrates the efforts of CASA volunteers, as well as other community members who support and protect children.

Janet Walden, executive director of CASA, said the event is held each April in honor of child abuse awareness and prevention month.

“Since January, 51 children have entered the care of the Department of Family and Children Services in Forsyth County,” Walden said.

She went on to note that studies show children who have “meaningful adult influences in their lives” are much less likely to be abused or neglected.

“So tonight we salute those who have taken the time to be there for children,” Walden said.

Thursday night's event, which drew a crowd of about 150 to the Forsyth Conference Center of Lanier Technical College, included remarks from Persephany Peterson.

Peterson, a 16-year-old North Forsyth High School student who has lived most of her life in a home with domestic violence, shared the importance of supportive adults.

“When the last bell of the school day rang, it would send me into a panic,” she said. “School was a safe haven. I’d find any excuse to stay at school as long as possible.”

She went on to discuss how her middle school teachers helped her escape an unsafe home environment.

Peterson went on to live in foster care and later at Jesse’s House, a group home for girls in Cumming.

She said her advocate, Lorraine Salvatore, was one reason she “stayed hopeful through three years of foster care and Jesse’s House.”

“It was a great relief knowing she’d be there through all the court proceedings,” Peterson said.

After it was determined it would not be safe for Peterson to return home, she was adopted by Beth Myers.

Myers met Peterson while volunteering as a Girl Scout leader at Jesse’s House.

“One day we had a new girl. She was quirky, cute, funny and smart, and I knew I wanted to take her home the first day,” Myers said.

Though Myers has three other children, including two in college, she said taking in Peterson was one of the greatest things she ever did.

“We’re all better off with her in our lives," Myers said.

Susan Gant and Antonia Flowers are two others who said yes to helping children by becoming advocates.

They were both recognized as the Georgia CASA of the Year for 2009 and 2010, respectively.

Gant has volunteered as a CASA since 2001, and Flowers since 2002. Both have assisted more than 20 children in their court cases.

CASA employee Paula Maimfeldt called the women “tireless volunteers” and “invaluable assets” to the program.

Also Thursday, 11 community members were recognized as Lights of Hope for their support of children in need.

The recipients ranged from advocates and mentors to teachers, church volunteers and those who work with special needs children.

Melissa Carter, director of Barton Child Welfare and Policy Center, which works with Georgia’s DFCS and juvenile court systems, gave the keynote address.

Carter commended the volunteers, but challenged them to continue their work.

Forsyth County Juvenile Court Judge Russell Jackson concluded the meeting with a similar challenge.

“Hopefully, we’ve all been inspired by these champions of children,” he said. “They embody a philosophy that I’ve held for years that each and every one of us has to take responsibility for abused and neglected children in our community."