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Representatives of CASA 69 and Safe Place, Inc. were in the lobby of Texan Sky Credit Union Tuesday picking up Christmas presents from under the Angel Tree.  The presents were purchased by members of the community and will bring at least a bit of joy this season to more than 90 children facing difficult circumstances.  Left to right:  Monica Trejo and Nancy Gonzales of Texan Sky, Evinn Wyatt and Cindy Johnson of CASA 69, Samantha Long and Kori Draper of Safe Place, Inc. 

As they have for the last six years, CASA 69 (Court Appointed Special Advocates in the 69th Judicial District) and Safe Place, Inc. teamed up with Texan Sky Credit Union this year to help provide Christmas presents for many local children facing a bleak holiday season.  "Sometimes these are the only presents they get," said CASA 69 Executive Director Evinn Wyatt  two years ago.

Wyatt and a colleague, along with representatives of Safe Place, Inc., were in the lobby of Texan Sky Tuesday picking up presents for 94 local children from under the Angel Tree that Texan Sky staff had put up earlier in the fall.  Every year, the two organizations provide Christmas wish lists for the children they are working for.  The Texan Sky staffers create angels with the lists on them to hang on the tree.  Customers and others from the community take the lists, purchase and wrap the presents, and place them under the tree.  The two organizations retrieve the packages and distribute them to the children in time for them to arrive by Christmas.  

Fifty of the presents are going to children that the schools have identified as needing help, according to Samantha Long of Safe Place, Inc.  Safe Place, Inc. operates a domestic violence shelter in Dumas and offers a variety of services to victims of domestic violence and/or sexual assault in Moore, Hartley, Dallam, and Sherman counties.  For several years, the organization has also helped provide Christmas presents to children in the community facing hardships.

The other  44 presents go to the children in foster care from Moore County that CASA volunteers advocate for.  Because of a shortage of foster parents locally, many of the children end up being placed in homes or institutions far from the Texas Panhandle.  The presents have to be mailed to them.  These are children who have suffered abuse at the hands of family members.  They are far from the only home they have known and facing an uncertain future.  CASA volunteers are appointed by the court to  work with the children to insure that they are being properly cared for and that their health and psychological well-being is being maintained as the court cases that will determine whether they are put up for adoption or returned to their families under the supervision of Child Protective Services wind their way through the legal process.  Sometimes, the CASA 69 volunteers are the only source of stability that the children have in their lives.  Wyatt said she is grateful for the willingness of community members to help by purchasing presents.  "We appreciate it very much and so do our children," she said.

This Christmas, a severe shortage of volunteers is casting a shadow over the CASA 69 program.  Wyatt said the COVID pandemic, which disrupted normal operations for several months, has reduced the number of people willing and able to help take care of the children to a critical level.  She said she needs at least 10 to 15 more volunteers in Moore County.  CASA 69 also operates in Hartley, Dallam, and Sherman counties.  People who have worked as volunteers with CASA 69 talk about how fulfilling it can be to make such a huge difference in a child's life.  They say they sometimes create friendships that last even after the child has become an adult.  More volunteers, people willing to step up and make sure these children have a decent life, might be the best Christmas present they could receive.    

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