Sep. 23—WILKES-BARRE — This year's CASABlanca Gala topped last year's record-breaking endeavor, as it was announced that CASA of Luzerne County raised more than $280,000 with its Thursday night outing.
Taking place inside the Luzerne County Courthouse and out on the grounds, the titular setting was much more than Rick Blaine's "gin-joint" as familiar faces from various organizations all over the county convened for a night together in support of the children.
CASA Executive Director Mary Kay Pivovarnik said of the massive fund-raising endeavor: "The continued growth and support for CASA means that we can servce more children. Every time I speak, I say there are 500 children in the foster care system, so, the more money we raise, we're able to support more advocates."
More advocates, of course, means more children that can be helped.
CASA, which stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates, is a nonprofit which trains advocates who go to bat for county children who are working their way through the foster care system, many of whom were victims of abuse and/or neglect.
'I think I need to do this'
One of those advocates, Michelle Kozich, offered her thoughts on volunteering from the courthouse rotunda before the party moved to the massive tent set up in the gardens.
Kozich attended the annual NEPASings event four years ago and after having that experience, she told her husband, John, "I think I need to do this."
And so, while balancing her work and her family, she got involved. Her first case involved four sisters. Upon meeting them, one of the girls asked Kozich, "Are you my new caseworker?" Kozich explained she was a volunteer and said, "I told her I was there for her, not because I had to be but because I wanted to be."
The four girls would all go on to find wonderful adoptive families after a grueling case that lasted about three years, she explained.
Kozich's daughter, Alex, also is an advocate. She completed the training as soon as she reached the required age of 21.
'These are all of our kids'
While Pivovarnik offered her remarks to the gathered crowd, she asked advocates to raise their hands and be recognized with a round of applause. Several proud hands shot into the air, as one advocate shot up both, a sure sign of dedication to the position.
To the show of support, and the whopping final total, Pivovarnik told a reporter, "It means to me that the county understands that these children are their futures ... give them the tools to prosper and be great community members and be the next person standing at that podium speaking, you know? And that, to me, when the community comes out like this, that makes me understand that they get it, that these are all of our kids."
M&T Bank was the primary sponsor for the evening and 'Hero of Hope' and Pivovarnik offered her thanks to all of the evening's sponsors.
To learn more about CASA of Luzerne County or get involved, visit www.luzernecasa.org, call at 570-855-2247, or visit the office at 667 S. River St. in Wilkes-Barre.