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Spotlight: A Winter Wonderland

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Christina Stock Photo Linda Cisneros, left, branch operations assistant at First American Bank, is seen here with Carrie-Leigh Cloutier, CEO of CASA Chaves County, in front of one of the Christmas trees that will go on auction at CASA's Winter Wonderland event.

The CASA Winter Wonderland auction will benefit disadvantaged local children

By Christina Stock

Vision Editor

The 17th annual Winter Wonderland auction, benefiting children that are served by the Chaves County CASA children’s program, returns to First American Bank, 111 E. Fifth St., in the large tent outdoors, Nov. 22 at 5 p.m.

During a meeting with the CEO of the program, Carrie-Leigh Cloutier spoke about how the bank is already filled with sparkly Christmas trees in all forms and shapes, decorated up to the top with different ornaments — there is even one full of unicorns.

“We are just so grateful for First American Bank, who every year bends over backwards and allows us to make this giant mess and turn it — thanks to our designer Adelina Mendez and generous donors in the community — into something that can’t be found anywhere else,” Cloutier said.

The program supports children in dire need. These are the kids that have never encountered love; some have never had a present. Since the late Judge Alvin F. Jones established the first CASA program in Chaves County in 1987, the program has expanded every year, much to the chagrin of those who joined to work for these children — after all, it would be best if there would be no need for it.

“We are a nonprofit that has 21 programs under its umbrella, serving thousands and thousands of children and family members in Chaves County and Artesia,” Cloutier said. “Those are programs for our high-risk families — there is really not a child in Chaves County that is not at risk at this moment. It doesn’t matter what kind of family you’re from, there are a lot of risks out there, and we hope to mitigate those risks and help children to be placed in safe, loving permanent homes.

“Our auction is always the Friday before Thanksgiving — it makes it so festive. I have this amazing team of people, my staff, my board members, the community that makes this somehow appear out of nothing, and then, we will have a super-fun auction. We’ll have free food, free drinks — please come, bring you friends. We have things at all price levels. We’ll have a silent auction and then a live auction for the glamorous items,” Cloutier said.

Asked if she could give some teasers, Cloutier said, “We have really incredible selections of Christmas trees, nativities, different kinds of displays this year, some for outside. Many of the Christmas trees are donated, and many are designed by Adelina Mendez who is just this incredibly talented designer who works for us during the season. We get a lot of donations that help to pay for all this decor, it goes up for auction and 100% goes to services in our community. It’s going to be a lot of fun this year, we’re really excited. We will probably have about 70 live auction items, about 50 of those will be trees and then we’ll have about 150 silent auction items and this year we will be selling crosses and these beautiful angel candle holders that people can just buy at a flat-out price. Something for everybody, every pocketbook. You don’t have to be a big giant spender to help and be a part of our family. It is also a very good place to meet CASA volunteers. If you are interested in being a CASA volunteer, you can talk to people (about) what it’s like and learn about it more.”

Cloutier said that their program is having a new addition that was unfortunately necessary. “We’ve expanded our program this year, we added a family resource center, which will be opening — we’re doing a grand opening after the first of the year. It’s going to be in the same building, but it’s for the highest risk families in town. For those really digging in deep, helping and supporting those high risk families so their kids don’t go into foster care. I have to say the staff working in that program are incredibly special people because they truly believe in the dignity and the hope for those families and are really affecting a difference so kids don’t have to know the drama of being removed. Our teams are working hard, it is very complex work.”

CASA Giving Trees for the children will be going up around town in different businesses, but there is more ahead. “We are also this year registered at Amazon and Target,” Cloutier said. “That’ll make it super-easy for people, that’s how I shop. Just go there and we’re registered under Chaves County CASA. Of course, go to our Facebook and Instagram and you’ll see things posted there, too. You’ll see at our businesses, stacks of our cards, some will have trees, already, thanks to the Guerreros, the bike club, they donated hundreds of toys. They were very, very generous.

“I have to say that we are serving more children than ever. Especially, because of this new program that is reaching out to these really hurting families. I suspect that we will probably be serving about 400 different children this Christmas. It’s a large amount,” Cloutier said.

Traditionally, there will also be a family shopping area set up and Cloutier said that every donation is welcome. The shop will be open on Dec. 18 and families can choose what they need free of charge.

“We always can use space heaters and blankets for families in the winter because a good number of families don’t have heat,” Cloutier said. “Space heaters make a difference, pajamas, coats are needed — we don’t have that many coats. Coats for kids. From birth to adult, we can use everything.

“Right before Christmas, we have emergencies that happen. Children that are taken in in the middle of the night. Sometimes, when kids are being taken out of their homes, their clothes have meth on them, so they have nothing. We can at least have emergency clothes for those kids. Recently, we got a really generous grant from Sam’s Club to help us buy emergency clothes for kids,” Cloutier said.

“The community is so good to us though, and it is so affirming this time of year, it really lifts us up when things are really hard, and this is a hard time of year. We’re all stressed and families are stressed,” Cloutier said.

For more information, visit casakids.org or call 575-625-0112.