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CASA of Forsyth County honors Light of Hope winners
Casa Light of Hope 2018
Members of CASA of Forsyth County Inc., honored several members with awards on Wednesday during the organization’s annual Light of Hope celebration. - photo by Kelly Whitmire

Educators, Girl Scout leaders and other volunteers were among those honored this week for their work advocating for local children.

Members of CASA of Forsyth County Inc., a local county-appointed child advocacy nonprofit organization, honored several members with awards on Wednesday at the organization’s Light of Hope celebration.

At the ceremony, 273 lit candles represented each child served by 94 CASA volunteers in 2017. Those volunteers served a combined 8,280 hours.

By the numbers: 2017
273 children served
94 CASA volunteers
8,280 combined hours served

“These are ordinary people, who happen to do extraordinary things for children,” said CASA Executive Director Paula Malmfeldt. 

CASA takes volunteers and, after training, assigns them as an advocate for children in court proceedings, particularly those in foster homes.

Light of Hope honorees were: Joan Anderton and Lucy Murray, who set up a visitation program for prisoners and their children at Arrendale State Prison; Forsyth County Schools Superintendent Jeff Bearden, Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office’s Cpl. Paige Cash; Mariah Clark, with Forsyth County DFACS; Karin Ewing, with Forsyth County Schools’ student support services; Girl Scout Troop Leader Cindy Morris; District Attorney Penny Penn; Cherie Perkins, director of children’s outreach at Cumming First United Methodist Church; and Brookwood Elementary School Principal Tracey Smith.

In addition to being honored at the event, a video was shown with members of the community giving reasons the Hope of Light honorees deserved to be chosen. 

No Light of Hope celebration was held in 2017, so two volunteer of the year awards were given on Wednesday. Stephanie Mau was honored for her work in 2016, and Caitlin Ryan was the 2017 volunteer of the year. 

Forsyth County Sheriff Ron Freeman was awarded the W. Everett Bennett Community Partner Award.

“While protecting the citizens of our community, the whole Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office is impressively focused on supporting and protecting the youth in our community,” Malmfeldt said. 

The event also featured remarks from previous winners, those with fostering organizations and those who have experience with the system. 

Ashley Baer, a special education facilitator with Forsyth County Schools, shared her personal story for those in attendance.

After her mother died, Baer’s father remarried an abusive new wife, who told her and her siblings not to talk about their mother, and she was eventually told she had to move out at age 16.

She said she was fortunate a family was looking into adoption at the same time. 

“Little did the Walters know when they went and inquired about adoption that day that the stork would soon be dropping a troubled teenage girl on their doorsteps. They agreed I could stay with them for two weeks until they could find a more personal foster home,” Baer said. “At the end of the two weeks, they asked me if I wanted to stay … ‘Who does that,’ I remember thinking in that moment, that I couldn’t believe someone would do that for me when my own parents would not or could not.”

Sandra Stanley, a foster parent and founder of North Point Ministries’ Fostering Together, served as the evening’s keynote speaker and told attendees the impact fostering has on children’s lives.

“Does a little bit matter? … Does my short, little [time] in a kid’s life matter? Does my little bit of love? My little bit of kindness? My little bit of coaching?” she said. “Ladies and gentlemen, you are seated around some people in this room knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt, because they’ve seen a lot of times that every little, teeny bit matters. It matters a lot.”