Donning masks, attendees filed into the Foster House restaurant where they were greeted by actors hosting parlor games.
As they were broken up into groups of 12, participants engaged with the actors in improvisation exercises that mimicked a mystery dinner theater event.
The occasion? A new kind of fundraiser for CASA, or Court Appointed Special Advocates, of Forsyth County, a nonprofit that relies on judge-appointed volunteers who are trained to represent abused or neglected children involved in juvenile court proceedings.
Saturday evening’s Mystery Masquerade, which featured a historical horse-drawn wagon ride through downtown Cumming, a silent auction, parlor games and hors d’oeuvres, proved a success, said Paula Malmfeldt, the organization’s interim executive director.
Put on in conjunction with Linda Heard, executive director of the Cumming Playhouse, Malmfeldt said the overwhelming response was positive and many called the event “very unique.”
“It was a nice event,” she said, adding that the organization raised four times the amount from the previous year’s fall fundraiser.
“We raised about $32,000 and sold 92 to 93 tickets,” Malmfeldt said. “We knew the masquerade was going to be the first of its kind so we wanted to step into it gently. We hope it will be an annual event, though; we’re thinking of having the same theme of a Mystery Masquerade but with different taglines each year. We are thrilled with feedback we’ve gotten from our [inaugural] event.”
Malmfeldt said each activity was chosen with CASA’s mission in mind.
“The ride throughout downtown was put on by the historical society and participants were narrated the historical significance of downtown,” she said. “At CASA, we transport children as they are transitioning to new homes, so [the ride] and the Foster House were the perfect backdrops. Generations have lived in those houses and people learned a lot about the foundation of our community and that’s important in how [CASA] supports families in the community, so it [fit together.]”
Malmfeldt said while this event is not CASA’s signature fundraiser – that comes in the form of a superhero 5K run in February – the event was intended to bring awareness to the organization.
“Our need is growing; we’ve taken on six new cases in the last five days and we have got to be more intentional about getting the message out,” she said. “We wanted to create an event that was appealing for people who don’t usually come to fundraisers and we need the community to know about and be invested in CASA and recommend friends and neighbors as advocates. We need to raise awareness and bring people into the folds.”
CASA volunteers, who are sworn in in several groups throughout the year, act as guardians to foster children, often investing more time in individual cases than Division of Family and Children Services case workers, who frequently have numerous children and families to deal with.
Their relationship with the child is meant to provide stabilization in the otherwise chaotic life of a young person in foster care.
Ultimately, Malmfeldt said, the goal is to reunite the foster children with their parents and in 52 percent of cases that were closed in 2017, children were reunited with their families.
“[Forsyth County Juvenile Court] Judge [J. Russell] Jackson always says the kids we serve don’t want better families, they want their families to be better,” Malmfeldt said. “So that’s what we’re looking to do, while helping the community realize, ‘how can we support neighbors in crisis and how do we make families stronger and keep them strong?’”