By Ingrid Howard
When the Alabama Legislature cut all funding for the Court Appointed Special Advocates program several years ago, a group of women started Emma’s Circle to find a way to financially support the program.
The group decided to host a luncheon and invite speakers who had benefited from the CASA program. That first luncheon was held in 2012 at WorkPlay and was a huge success.
“It was one of the best events I have ever been to,” said luncheon chair Regina Ammon. “There was this real sense of urgency. There were boxed lunches … and they had judges and CASAs and all of these people who … conveyed their enthusiasm but also their urgency.”
Six years later, Emma’s Circle has invited Leigh Anne Tuohy, the woman who inspired the movie “The Blind Side,” to speak at its luncheon at The Florentine.
“She is a really strong supporter of helping young people and the importance, the value of guiding someone,” Ammon said. “The power of one person in a child’s life can change everything, and Leigh Anne Tuohy tells that story well.”
For this year’s luncheon, Ammon said, Emma’s Circle is working to bring in people who haven’t been to the event before. For the first time, people can buy individual tickets to the event, instead of having to buy a table.
“We’re making a big push to raise awareness about CASA,” Ammon said. “We’re taking out ads. We’re sending out press kits.”
Advocating for a Child
The CASA program trains volunteers to usher children through the child welfare system.
“Usually these children are neglected or abused,” Ammon said. “Or there’s a hideous divorce case going on. Or they’re in foster care. Or they’ve been taken out of their homes and put somewhere else for some reason.”
Volunteers assigned to a child research the case, including going into the child’s home and getting an understanding of what’s going on in the child’s life. Any time the child is engaged with the state system, or even for a parent-teacher conference, the advocate is there to advocate for the child’s best interest.
“Children with CASAs are more likely to be adopted or more likely to finish school – more likely to learn to read,” Ammon said. “Just on every level, having that one, stable adult who isn’t trying to manipulate the kid, who isn’t being bad to the kid, it’s incredibly stabilizing and useful.”
Katy Ottensmeyer, a public finance lawyer with Maynard Cooper & Gale, said she was hooked as soon as she took the CASA training.
“You just have opportunities to really make a difference in somebody’s life,” Ottensmeyer said. “You have so much more access to a child in need when you’re a CASA because you’re appointed by the court. The court is depending on you to gather information and just to learn everything you can about that child. And they truly are children in a desperate situation.”
While a lot of the CASA volunteers are lawyers, Ammon said they also can be people such as social workers or judges.
“They are well-educated people who understand government systems, and they donate their time to a child,” she said.
The 2018 luncheon will be Nov. 1, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., at The Florentine. Tickets can be purchased by going to eventbrite.com and searching for Emma’s Circle Luncheon. Ticket prices begin at $100.
“This luncheon is important because it’s raising funds for an organization that needs more funding, needs more volunteers,” Ammon said. “And the money goes straight to CASA. We have enough sponsors now that they pay for the luncheon. Luncheon expenses are covered. Everything that’s donated at the luncheon – actually much of our sponsorship money – goes straight to CASA.”