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Pennies Helping Children in Bad Situations

Feb 23, 2005 – Do you sometimes wonder if a penny is worth keeping? Well, it is definitely worth keeping, if you give it to CASA – Court Appointed Special Advocates.
CASA people, mostly volunteers, who advocate for the rights of children caught up in neglect or abuse cases, collected over a half million pennies in their Pennies from Heaven Campaign, which just ended. The campaign was initiated in 2003 and the first year of the drive netted 367,950 pennies.
Those pennies will go a long way in helping keep trained volunteers and helping out in minor emergencies. The pennies were a big percentage of the $24,000 CASA collected in the last four months of 2004. StoneTree Group, an Economic Development Company, matched CASA's collection with a $20,000 donation.
Gail Shearer, executive director of CASA, said although it is billed as a penny collection, many contributors throw in quarters, nickels or dimes. This, the second year of the collection effort, also a dozen or so checks arrive. They were in amounts of $15 to $150.
Rotary Clubs and schools help by passing a penny can. About 100 retailers on St. Croix had a jar out and there was a public day, Oct. 3, when volunteers collected pennies at Sunny Isles. They collected $1,900 on that day alone.(See "Pennies, Balloons, Painted Faces, All for a Good Cause").
Shearer did have some worries, she said she thought, "What if everyone gave us all their pennies last year and have none left." But the opposite seems to be happening. Collection is getting better.
Shearer said Wednesday, "People are starting to think about it and are keeping their pennies just to give to us." People have already started to drop off pennies at the CASA office. Although this year's fund raiser has not officially started, Shearer said the early contributions are appreciated.
Thirty-two volunteers are now handling a case load of 58 children. Judge Patricia D. Steel assigns children to CASA. The children are in the court system and have probably been assigned foster parents.
Shearer said, "We are the voice of the child." The CASA volunteers make sure that the child's academic and medical needs are being meet.
Shearer said that sometimes the Department of Human Services will say, "Sure the child needs that, but we don't have the money." Shearer added, "That is when we become the squeaky wheel."
CASA advocates are trained in dealing with the court system, as well as dealing with child abuse and neglect issues and doing interviews. Much of the money raised in this fund raiser goes to the training of volunteers.
Shearer, who is one of two paid staff members at CASA, said there are some volunteers who get burned out. "We try to let them know, even though it looks at times that little progress is being made, it is huge progress for the child. It means so much to the child to have an adult by their side consistently standing up for them."
Some of the money might be used in situations where the child needs something like a prescription or a school book and there just is not anyone else who will pay for it.
CASA was founded in 1994. (See "Change Is the Essence of CASA Campaign for Children").

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