SOUTH FORSYTH — The stage in the Lambert High School auditorium was illuminated Thursday night by 238 candles.
Each candle represented a child in Forsyth County who suffered abuse or neglect at the hands of family members or caregivers.
Each candle also represented a child who was served by a CASA volunteer last year.
Volunteers for Court Appointed Special Advocates of Forsyth County work with the juvenile justice system, families and social workers to speak for a child’s best interests. They provide information to judges. They guard the safety and well-being of the child.
They serve as a light of hope in what can often be dark and chaotic times for a child going through the foster care system.
But advocates are not the only people who support children, and they probably would not be as impactful without help from the community.
CASA honored 11 people Thursday night during the nonprofit’s annual Light of Hope ceremony, which recognizes those who go above and beyond to make a positive mark on children.
“Protecting and supporting children takes a community effort,” said Janet Walden, executive director of CASA. “These are shining examples of how we as a community can support the children and youth in our midst.”
This year, that mark was made by: the assistant director of the school district’s special education department; a high school senior who advocates for disadvantaged and disabled children; the director of Girls on the Run in Forsyth; a longtime educator and mentor; a Board of Education member; a youth coach and Cub Master; a Girl Scouts leader; the director of Bald Ridge Lodge; a jack-of-all-trades transition services educator; a cornerstone member of SAFFT; and a mother who takes in unwanted babies.
These community members — Lisa Bennett, Jordan Bennie, Cathy Brugnoli, Ellen Cohan, Ann Crow, Barry George, Deanna Granito, Barbara Kastner, Norma Malone, Catherine Rivenbark and Elisabeth Westbrook — were honored with a video about their efforts and an award as they crossed the stage, often to cheers from family members and the children they have helped.
“We know it takes selfless, compassionate individuals who provide children a ‘light of hope’ to help ensure they become strong, successful adults. And we feel honored to celebrate their work,” said Paula Gault, who chairs the CASA board and is a former superintendent of the local school system.
Just like the children represented by the candles, each Light of Hope recipient came from a different circumstance and has been able to help children in their own way.
Some have been through hard times themselves and wanted to give back. Others simply heard the call.
Also during the ceremony, CASA presented the Forsyth County commission with the W. Everett Bennett Community Partner Award, which Gault said was created in memory of the honor’s namesake, a former CASA chair who passed away four years ago.
“The leaders of Forsyth County government made a commitment to supporting the efforts of CASA and other organizations who work tirelessly to improve the lives of children in our community,” Gault said.
“CASA could not do what we do were it not for the generous support of Forsyth County, who provides to us the use of office space and assistance with such items as IT.”
The night ended with the naming of the 2016 CASA Volunteer of the Year.
“Robbin Plesher has been volunteering for CASA of Forsyth County since March 2011. Her seven cases thus far have included 17 children of various ages and circumstances,” Forsyth County Juvenile Court Judge J. Russell Jackson said.
“Robbin has been a blessing to each and every child and family, acknowledging where they have been, respecting them in the present and encouraging them along their journey within the juvenile system.”