"I am for the children who were originally adopted from a Russian orphanage, who were frightened and hurting because their adoptive parents abused and neglected them, " the woman on stage told the crowd of hundreds at the Antlers Hilton today.
"[They] were poorly fed, locked in a room and physically abused."
The woman — Judy Thompson — is a Court Appointed Special Advocate, or CASA, one of the many volunteers and employees of CASA of the Pikes Peak Region that together have helped over 9,000 kids in conflict over 23 years. Many of the kids were abused. CASA highlighted those achievements, and announced an initiative to help even more kids, at today's CASA Light of Hope luncheon.
Kristofer and Olivia, who are grade schoolers, were in dire straights when Thompson came along. She was able to get the kids important resources like therapy, and speak on their behalf in court. Because of her advocacy, the kids were permanently removed from their adoptive home, where it was discovered they had often been locked in a cold room with a plastic sheet on the floor for them to urinate and defecate on — a room the children dubbed "the nasty room."
Severely traumatized, Kristofer and Olivia were adopted by a couple that originally thought the kids would be too big a burden for them. After fostering the siblings, however, they fell in love.
The siblings also took the stage at the CASA luncheon, chattering on about normal kid stuff like sports and playing dress-up. There was barely a sign that the two had gone through so much, until Kristofer mentioned that he was highly impressed that all the kids at his new home had their own beds.
CASA executive director Trudy Strewler Hodges says she wants to create more happy endings for local kids. In many cases, that means helping parents to provide a safer environment for their children. In other cases, like Kristofer and Olivia's, it means finding them a new home.
"Without safety, seldom can children achieve the wishes and dreams that they have and reach their full potential," Hodges says. "These hopes and dreams ought not to be reserved for just some children. Every child is deserving of a chance to feel loved, and to be safe, and to be able to dream about their futures."
With that in mind, Hodges is launching an ambitious program to expand the organization's reach. The aim is to provide every local child in need with a CASA by 2020.
"I don't know when I've been more excited about a initiative," Hodges says. "I know that we can get there."
Still, the goal is a long way off. CASA volunteers generally represent only one child, and currently there are only enough volunteers to serve about 40 percent of area kids in need of the help.
Hodges says part of the initiative is switching to a more efficient model this year: Appointing long-term volunteers as "peer-coordinators," who can mentor and train new volunteers.
Of course, the other part of the puzzle is recruiting more volunteers and bringing in more funding. Those that want to help can go to www.casappr.org.