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Spotlight: Make Time for Kids

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Christina Stock Photo Chaves County CASA Program Carrie-Leigh Cloutier with CASA Courthouse Facility Dog Zia. Zia is one of the dogs who comfort children who have to testify at court.

CASA event to be held online

By Christina Stock

Vision Editor

This year’s Make Time for Kids event supporting Chaves County CASA will happen online on Aug. 28, at 6:30 p.m. It is the 18th anniversary of the fundraiser.

CASA stands for the program that brings court-appointed special advocate (CASA) volunteers together with children facing the judicial system. These children may be victims of abuse and neglect who are asked to tell their story to the judge. A difficult situation for any adult, it is so much more traumatizing for a child because often the ones that should give love and care are the predators: a family member or even a parent.

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Late Judge Alvin F. Jones had founded CASA in Chaves County in 1987. The nonprofit organization depends on volunteers that are trained and then appointed by the Children’s Court of the Fifth Judicial District and of course, donations.

Last year, in Chaves County alone, there were more than 1,400 referrals of child abuse to social services and several hundred temporary restraining orders filed in cases of domestic violence where children were involved. This year, due to the immense stress because of the pandemic, parents losing their jobs with children being stuck at home, the numbers may be much higher than reported.

Carrie-Leigh Cloutier is the chief executive officer of Chaves County CASA. In a phone interview, she talked about the situation and the upcoming event, which usually takes place in April.

“Make Time For Kids always happens in April — a super-fun fundraiser,” Cloutier said. “We’ve been putting it off, thinking that we would have to cancel it, but when we sat down with our sponsors, our staff and our board, we realized that we can’t afford to put it off any longer. Our fundraisers make our services possible.

“Right now, children are more vulnerable than ever. We are working really hard on some human trafficking cases that are unusual and heartbreaking, but we’ve also seen an increase in physical abuse because times are so tough on our parents and they just can’t handle the pressure. So our caseloads are long, we have waiting lists now, which we hate having. We realize, because the threat to our program right now financially is big, that we cannot afford just to relax. So, we are going to have Make Time for Kids and it is going to be 100% virtual. Nothing in person, which is going to be fun and challenging,” Cloutier said.

Asked what the event will include, Cloutier said that there will be a special raffle. “Would you believe, we have a donated vintage 1999 Mercedes convertible,” she said. “Keep your eyes on (CASA’s) Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. We will be very soon unveiling the auction website, which will show the raffle. The tickets will be $100 each. We are going to have our silent auction, we are going to have a market place. We are still going to have a live auction, but it will be online.

“So at 6:30 p.m. on Aug 28, people can turn on Facebook Live and watch Shane Hall, our incredible auctioneer do his magic. He is also the president of our board and we will be having our live auction where all our bidders, they just check in to our auction website and they can bid while the live auction is going, so it’s all going to be virtual and super-fun. We can’t wait,” Cloutier said.

Usually, the public is asked to make clocks and donate them. This is not the case this year. “Of course, if they want to, that’s fabulous,” Cloutier said. “But everybody’s hands are full right now, but we do have some clocks that we will be auctioning, so that will be part of it.”

Asked about the needs of the organization, Cloutier said, “Money, of course, but we actually are continuing to train CASA volunteers right now. We are doing it virtually, so people can still be advocating for children, believe it or not, 100% virtually and it’s working. So we’ll have our training completely online, so everybody can feel comfortable and safe getting their CASA training. Then, we’ll all work together to make it happen. It’s actually an exciting time for us in a lot of ways because we are meeting the needs of our kids and the community in different ways and this community is amazing for us and they have not skipped a beat. We are so grateful.

“We have a waiting list for cases because there are so many abuse cases,” Cloutier said. “Right now, we serve thousands of children and families every year and right now, we are probably serving 400 kids actively. It’s bad out there.

“Families that have lost their jobs; don’t have enough money, don’t know how to pay their utilities, it’s hot and we are also trying to put in extra services for our families because they are going to need help with school. Parents are scared and our clients, they don’t have the ability, they don’t have the intellectual capability sometimes, the social skills to be able to pull off schooling. We are really trying to be as creative as we can and I am terrified that we have to cut services right now, but that’s the very last thing I want to do, when kids are in such crisis when they are so vulnerable. That’s why our board said let’s do this. And we’re going to do it. Right now, every little thing helps,” Cloutier said.

According to data from the National Health Interview Survey in 2019 and 2020 U.S. Census Bureau and 2020 Household Pulse Survey, 39.1% of adults (ages 18 and above) reported symptoms of anxiety and depressive disorders in New Mexico. For comparison, during January to June 2019, this was only the case for 11%.

Another sign of the stress families are facing is found in the recent monthly Roswell Police Department report — compared to June 2019, DWIs are up by 77.94%.

For more information about Make Time for Kids, visit Chaves County CASA social media pages. For more information about the program, to become a volunteer or to donate, visit casakids.org or call 575-625-0112.