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Spotlight: CASA goes virtual

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Christina Stock Photo Seen here in the midst of decorating Christmas trees for the upcoming CASA Winter Wonderland event is decorator Angelina Mendez, left, and CASA CEO Carrie-Leigh Cloutier.

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

Winter Wonderland event to be held online

By Christina Stock

Vision Editor

The pandemic has changed the world including charitable events, such as Chaves County CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) and the Artesia Advocacy Center’s annual Winter Wonderland event. This year, the event, with beautiful decorated Christmas trees, wreaths and silent auction items, will take place 100% virtual on Facebook Live @casa.chaves.

For those who don’t know about CASA, its program was brought to life in Chaves County, by the late Judge Alvin F. Jones, who in 1987 established the program that brought together volunteers, court appointed special advocates, to represent children whose lives had been impacted by legal disputes, often abuse cases and had to speak about their trauma at court. Out of this idea grew an organization that spans across the country and includes even trained support dogs. The staff of CASA and its trained volunteers have other duties as well, they monitor compliance with court orders, maintain records, formulate recommendations and work together with law enforcement and other entities helping these children and their families.

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The CASA staff and volunteers see the dark underbelly of Chaves County, and having a pandemic with schools shut and children social isolating at home, didn’t make their job easier as the stress and pressure on families and children skyrocketed.

Carrie-Leigh Cloutier, CASA’s chief executive officer, said about today’s situation, “Child abuse right now is something horrific, and we’re dealing with, it is very different, we are seeing higher numbers and actually human trafficking. It is very complex and very frightening. Kids aren’t in school so people are able to hide them. But I tell you what, law enforcement has done an incredible job of being there for these kids. Really proud of local law enforcement. We serve these kids in Artesia and here in Chaves County. My team hasn’t skipped a beat. We are virtual, we are in person because these kids need (us) to be there in person. My staff and I are continuing with these high risk circumstances. They are using their masks and everything, but we need to have eyes on these kids. Sometimes we are the only ones with eyes on these kids to make sure that they are safe in their homes.

“The stress is overwhelming. And what we are seeing different right now is the abuse is more violent than usual,” Cloutier said. “But if you think about it, it makes sense. People are at their wits’ end; people who have all the skills and support in the world are at their wits’ end; so what about this single mother, victim of domestic violence? She has COVID, her kids have COVID, she doesn’t have a job or has a job online and trying to school her kids, but she’s not educated either? We had two cases of threatened murder where we had to intervene and kept kids safe from murder. I mean, it’s that bad. These parents just can’t cope. It’s a recipe for disaster.”

Cloutier said that CASA is getting technology to the local families and that they are doing everything they can to support the children. “We are expecting it to get worse over the holidays, you know, abuse is worse over the holidays,” she said. “Put this (the pandemic) on top of it and it’s going to be really bad. So we are asking everybody, if they can, and I know, so many are hurting, but anybody who has that extra $5, please reach out.”

The main event to have the funds to help the children is coming up from Nov. 2 to 20, the CASA Winter Wonderland.

“We are so blessed by our community, First American Bank and Xcel Energy and all our other sponsors said, go for it. Let’s do it, we’re behind you and don’t skip a beat,” Cloutier said. “We recognized we can’t even do a small group. We can’t do anything live at all. So we are going to be 100% virtual this year, we’re not going to have a live auction, but we are decorating like we always have, and we have that incredible donation of a ’46 Jeep Willy’s, it is like an award-winning vintage M.A.S.H. Jeep. We are raffling it off. It’s so cool. The beautiful thing about being virtual is that the whole world can join us. It will be on Facebook and Instagram, we ask everybody to share, share, share with their friends.”

While all decorated Christmas trees will be available online, some of them and some of the larger decorative wreaths will be on display at First American Bank. Cloutier said that the bank permits only 10 people in at any time, so please be patient.

Asked who was in charge of decorations, Cloutier said, “I am lucky, because I have her, Adelina Mendez and her team. Our decorator has once again produced this. Everything, all the pictures will be online and you just bid. There will be a link so you can do it by phone or computer, it’s the same way Make Time for Kids happened (earlier this year in August). You can click through, bid and it will tell you when you are outbid, it’s really kind of fun.

“I have so much faith in this community and how they come out for us,” Cloutier said. “Our community needs something fun to do and even if we can’t do it in person, we can do it like this and they can know they are helping kids and they’ll know their money is going straight to services, every donation is going straight to services for these kids.”

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