2012 CASA Light of Hope Award Recipients included the following:
* Chris Adams, Bald Ridge Boys Lodge youth pastor
* Kathy Bain, Brookwood Elementary School counselor
* Jennifer Cardenas, special needs educational advocate
* Kim Coggins, speech-language pathologist
* Onalee Flynn, Johns Creek Elementary School counselor
* Paula Malmfeldt, Girl Scout leader
* Ali Margelli, Haw Creek Elementary School volunteer
* Shelly Otis, Haw Creek Elementary guidance counselor
* Christine Roberts, Mentor Me North Georgia mentor
* Rebecca Rusk, Juvenile Court administrator
* Greg Whitt, teacher at Vickery Creek Middle School
Source: Forsyth County CASA
A longtime community leader was honored during the Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA, Light of Hope event.
The annual gathering honors CASAs, volunteers who advocate on behalf of children in abuse and neglect cases, and others who serve children in need in the community.
It’s always held during April, which is National Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness Month.
The organization this year presented its first W. Everett Bennett Community Partner Award.
“We lost a true light of hope not too long ago,” said Juvenile Court Judge J. Russell Jackson, referring to Bennett’s passing in March.
Addressing the crowd Thursday night, Jackson recalled how Forsyth County CASA didn’t exist in 2003, but was part of an “umbrella organization” that also included Cherokee County.
“Everett Bennett brought his business acumen and many other talents to the task of establishing, developing and building a CASA program from the ground up,” Jackson said.
Bennett served as chairman of the organization’s board from the time it was created until his death.
Jackson said the organization has grown from having an executive director in 2004 to having an executive director and three case managers who oversee more than 80 CASAs and hundreds of cases each year.
“The person largely responsible for that growth was Everett Bennett,” Jackson said.
Executive Director Janet Walden said the organization will “never be able to fill the void” of Bennett’s passing, but she and other leaders wanted to “commemorate his legacy” with the annual award.
A small, glass statue in the shape of a flame was presented to Bennett’s wife, Teresa, while another of the same design went to Chris and Mary Albano, owners of Stars and Strikes Family Entertainment Center on Atlanta Highway.
Walden said the Albanos represent Bennett’s “belief in community service.”
She said the couple often donates space and time at the center, which includes a bowling alley and many arcade games, for CASA events.
“They completely close their business one Saturday each December so hundreds of foster kids can come play the games, bowl and boy can they eat the pizza,” said Walden, noting the business also holds an annual Halloween haunted house that raises money for the organization.
Besides the Bennett award, CASA leaders also recognized Bill and Jane Fullam as CASA volunteers of the year.
Georgia CASA Executive Director Duaine Hathaway said the Fullams have served the organization since 2006, putting in hundreds of hours to help more than 40 children involved in courts cases.
“Bill and Jane have been the dream team for Forsyth County CASA,” Hathaway said.
Light of Hope awards were also presented to others in the community who serve the needs of children.
The “lights of hope” ranged from youth ministers and special education teachers to foster parents and Scout leaders.
Nicole Morgan, director of Forsyth County Community Connection, made the presentations.
“Tonight we recognize ordinary men and women who are doing extraordinary acts every single day,” Morgan said.
Jackson called the evening “inspiring.”
“These award recipients are an embodiment of the philosophy I believe in, that each and every one of us has to take ownership of abused and neglected children in our community,” he said. “Unless we all work together, we’ll fail these children … this work is never done and there are others who need their own lights of hope.
“Maybe that can be one of you.”