Court Appointed Special Advocates in the 69th Judicial District (CASA 69) and Texan Sky Credit Union joined forces this Christmas to provide Christmas presents to the 58 local children in foster care represented by CASA 69 advocates.
CASA 69 Executive Director Evinn Wyatt, along with CASA Board of Directors Member Bethany Scroggins and Tiffany Akin of CASA, were in the credit union Wednesday afternoon to pick up the presents from under the so-called "Angel Tree" located in the lobby. "Sometimes these are the only gifts they will receive," said Wyatt.
Because of a shortage of foster families in the 69th Judicial District of Moore, Dallam, Hartley, and Sherman Counties, local children who have been removed from homes by court order because of credible allegations of abuse often have to be placed in foster homes far away from the Panhandle. "About 30 gifts will have to be mailed," said Wyatt. "We have kids all the way down in Brownsville."
This is the third Christmas that the two organizations have worked together, according to Perla Rascon of Texan Sky. "We just like giving back, and we see the need for it," she said Wednesday afternoon. "I don't think people realize how many kids are being fostered out or are in these situations."
Beginning November 1, a huge Christmas tree goes up in the lobby of the credit union. CASA 69 personnel provide shopping lists for each of their foster children. The names of the children and any identifying information remain confidential. "What we do is cut out angels and hang them up on the tree, and the community comes in, looks at everything, picks an angel, checks it out with us, and then we follow up when it comes time to start collecting the gifts to make sure everyone brings in their angel," said Rascon. Once public members purchase the items on the list of their angel, they wrap the packages and place them under the tree. "There has been a big turnout … everybody helps out and participates. Toot n' Totum helped out … they accepted donations, which they brought in." With the money from Toot n' Totum, Rascon says they were able to insure that all the children received the items they asked for -- shoes, clothes, other essentials, and a special wish.
Some people and organizations selected more than one angel to shop for, said Janet Garcia of Texan Sky. The First Christian Church and Bible Baptist Church each took nine angels, while Flores Trucking took six.
The children served by the Angel Tree are in difficult, stressful circumstances. Many have suffered abuse at the hands of people who are supposed to love them. They are often far from the only home they have ever known, and the future is uncertain. CASA 69 advocates insure their welfare as much as possible as their cases move through the legal system. Some are ultimately adopted into a permanent new home; others are returned to their original home under the supervision of Child Protective Services. In many cases, CASA 69 advocates are the only source of stability in their lives. Wyatt says she is grateful for the willingness of community members to help. "We appreciate it very much, and so do our children," she said.
Texan Sky's Angel Tree program also serves children represented by Safe Place, Inc., according to Rascon. In total, the program provided Christmas presents for 118 children.