WELLSBURG - For more than a dozen years A Child's Place Court-Appointed Special Advocates has used its Christmas open house to inform area residents about its mission in a casual way while also raising funds for the nonprofit group.
And this year's event, held Thursday at its Charles Street office, came at a time when the group is seeing its greatest demand while under financial constraints, said Rhonda Stubbs, executive director.
A Child's Place is one of more than 900 Court-Appointed Special Advocate programs in the United States that trains volunteers to represent the interests of children involved in abuse and neglect court cases in Brooke and Hancock counties.
OPEN HOUSE — Rhonda Stubbs, executive director of A Child’s Place Court-Appointed Special Advocate, chatted with Shawn Thompson, a local teen who was among volunteers who aided her with the group’s Christmas open house Thursday in Wellsburg.
The volunteers visit the children's homes in an effort to ensure parents or guardians are complying with court orders to undergo counseling and the environment is safe.
Stubbs said this year the group has served 187 children, the highest number since it was formed 2000. Prior to that, last year had been CASA's busiest year, with 137 children served.
Stubbs blames the dramatic rise in recent years to drug abuse, particularly heroin addiction.
She said the group also is dealing with a financial crunch. Summer always brings a drop in private contributions, she said, but this year it was followed by the government shutdown and a delay in the release of federal funds.
As a result, the group is more than $3,000 in the red.
Stubbs said she and Jennifer Reitter, CASA's coordinator of volunteers, and volunteers and supporters are working to make up the difference through various fundraisers. They include the open house, where home-based vendors of cosmetics, kitchen supplies and other products shared proceeds with the group. There also was a drawing for gift baskets supplied by Jenna Boley of Advantage Sales and Marketing.
The group also will hold a quarter auction at 3:30 p.m. Sunday at the Chester Veterans of Foreign Wars Post. A variety of home-based products will be on the auction block, and bidders may bid 25 cents for those valued at $25 or under, 50 cents for those valued at $26 to $50 and so on.
Bidders drop the change into buckets, and the winner is determined by drawing a bidder's number from a hat.
During the open house Stubbs was visited by Kiah Christiansen and Joe White, social work students from the Franciscan University of Steubenville who have been collecting cash and coins for CASA.
Stubbs said people can help CASA in a variety of ways. In addition to monetary donations, the group can use a variety of office supplies, Christmas gifts for the children it serves and donations of various household items sold through eBay.
Stubbs said A Child's Place CASA has expanded its efforts to help area youth in other ways. With the cooperation of Eastern Gateway Community College, she presents a three-hour course, known as "From Darkness to Light" and designed to educate adults in preventing child abuse, particularly sexual abuse.
Stubbs said the course's aim is to educate parents and others to avoid conditions that make it easier for child predators to strike. She said parents should be cautious about other adults whom they allow to have one-to-one contact with their children and shouldn't be embarrassed about asking questions or setting limits in such cases.
Educators and others may receive continuing education credits for taking the course, but it's also available to anyone interested in protecting children.
The cost is limited to a $20 materials fee, and a spring course is planned at Eastern Gateway Community College.
Stubbs also is involved with Fostering Futures, a program that matches adult mentors with youth, ages 14-21, who are in foster care or group homes. Such youth often are less likely to be adopted than younger children but are in no less need of emotional support and guidance than any young adult with a parent or guardian in their lives, she said.
Stubbs said CASA has benefited from volunteers over the years. Each year she and Reitter present the Stick Your Neck Out Award to one or more who have gone above and beyond to help CASA.
This year's recipients are Alison York, a CASA advocate, and her husband, Ronnie Jones, and daughter, Emily. She said the family's support has ranged from assisting with office tasks to making contributions matched by Jones' employer, Alliance Coal.
In recent months Stubbs also has been aided by Shawn Thompson, a teen who was aided by CASA and later adopted by Mike Thompson, the CASA board's chairman.
She said Shawn, as her honorary administrative assistant, has helped her in many ways, including assisting with the eBay sales and monthly baked good sales.
For information about A Child's Place CASA, call (304) 737-4444 or visit its Facebook page.