In a crowded hall at the Forsyth County Conference Center, Paula Malmfeldt, executive director for CASA of Forsyth County, stood before the crowd at a lectern, overlooking rows and rows of small candles, each representing a different child’s life.
“One candle for each child served by a CASA volunteer last year. 306 candles, 306 children,” Malmfeldt said to the crowd. “By the time I sit down tonight more than 30 cases of abuse will have been reported to authorities nationwide. By the end of the night, that number will swell past 9,000 and four of those children will die at the hands of their caregivers. All in a single day.”
Malmfeldt spoke these words to local residents and community leaders who had gathered at the 2019 Light of Hope celebration to honor CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) of Forsyth County and the group’s brightest volunteers for the work they do to help and support local children in need.
According to Malmfeldt, CASA is a network of volunteers who advocate and support abused and neglected children in the local community with a variety of different methods and approaches. Each year the organization gathers to recognize standout volunteers that embody the group’s mission and values.
Malmfeldt told the crowd that this year they received more nominations for the Light of Hope than ever before and from those nominations 11 people were chosen for recognition.
After a performance by the Forsyth Central Chamber Chorus, Jennifer Elwood of the CASA of Forsyth County Board of Directors presented each Light of Hope Award recipient to the crowd, listing their different accomplishments, which ranged from running an organization to find housing to advocating for children in classrooms, courtrooms and homes around the state.
“These individuals have a heart for service and truly are giving and loving supporters of our foster families,” Elwood said.
Those recognized at the 2019 Light of Hope Celebration included:
CASA Light of Hope Awardees
• Jennifer Pettipas-Buescher, Child Advocacy Center Forensic Interviewer
• Tina Huck, Family Promise of Forsyth executive director
• Kara Quincy, Forsyth County Schools school nurse
• Afiya Hinkson, Division of Family and Children Services State Assistant Attorney General
• Scott and Jessica Torres, foster parents and founders of Fostering Together
• Jamie Barnes, Matt Elementary School Assistant Principal
• Brittney Hampton, Division of Family and Children Services Social Services Supervisor
W. Everett Bennett Community Partner Award
• Judi Jenkins, Casa of Forsyth County past board chair
Voice of Hope Award
• Wayne Caton, CASA of the Year
It Takes a Village award
• Jeff Waller, co-founder of “The 7 Mindsets”
Later, Northside Hospital Forsyth Administrator Lynn Jackson presented one of the event’s special awards, the W. Everett Bennett Community Partner Award, to CASA of Forsyth County past board chair Judi Jenkins.
According to Jackson, since 2014 Jenkins has been an active and passionate member of the CASA of Forsyth County board of directors, championing the organization’s causes and allowing the group to expand and grow stronger.
“She has catapulted CASA’s mission from the quiet recesses of juvenile courtrooms to the Forsyth County Community at large,” Jackson said.
The last two awards, the Voice of Hope Award and the It Takes a Village Award, were presented by Malmfeldt to CASA volunteer Wayne Caton and community leader Jeff Waller, respectively.
The last speaker of the night, Maj. Thomas Patton of the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, left the crowd with a few observations on the impact that the work CASA does has on the community.
Patton told the crowd that all the different organizations and institutions in the community are drawn together by the common purpose of preserving the well-being of children and a common enemy, anyone who would threaten that purpose.
“All of us who serve in uniform know how blessed we are to work in a community in which the various institutions and organizations work together as effectively and smoothly, as ours do,” he said. “We all collaborate here and almost take for granted the level of coordination and cooperation that is unheard of in most counties.”