By DEVIN WEEKS
North Idaho CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) offers a ray of hope for kids going through tough times that many grown-ups can't even imagine.
CASA trains guardian ad litem volunteers who are appointed by the court to represent these children in court proceedings and work on their behalf, a necessary service for kids traumatized by neglect and abuse, torn between parents in custody battles or subjected to other unfortunate circumstances.
Last year, CASA, which has 139 volunteer advocates, served nearly 500 North Idaho children who were rescued from their homes because of abuse, neglect or violence. In Kootenai County alone, CASA advocates assisted 337 children in court. Those numbers increased 24 percent from 2017. Half of the children were only 5 or younger.
"What CASA is doing is also bringing some daylight to this problem, which is often not talked about," said Pepper Smock, who co-owns Windermere Coeur d'Alene Realty with wife, Midge. "It’s a real tragic and growing problem."
"These kids grow up, and the chain has to be broken somewhere," Midge said. "If they don’t get help, it's bad for our whole community."
The Smocks met with CASA CEO KJ Brant on Friday to contribute $10,000 to help the nonprofit assist victimized children.
"Our community is exceptional in helping us meet our mission, which is to serve every child," Brant said. "We are exceptional in the fact that we serve all of our child victims in child protection.
"Programs in the state of Idaho and throughout the country do not serve all their children; some are only serving half."
But in North Idaho, every child has an advocate to look out for them, and this can only be done with the help of many hands.
"I have an amazing staff of 10,” Brant said. "It just really takes all of us. It takes the staff, leadership, board and our community partners. You miss any one piece of that and it’s not going to work. Every one of these children that are victims deserve to have an advocate."
The Smocks support CASA, Midge said, because they believe in the program.
“We are just so impressed with how KJ has turned this organization around and they’re servicing so many more kids and there’s such a huge need. And I know the money just doesn’t go very far, but she can stretch it," Midge said. "CASA is so important. It gives kids a chance."
The donation will be used to sponsor the Ray of Hope lunch, which will be held at The Coeur d'Alene Resort from noon to 1 p.m. Tuesday. The luncheon is an awareness event as well as an opportunity for CASA to extend its appreciation to those who make its work possible.
Brant said the lunch will be covered for advocates, first-responders, health and welfare staff and everyone who works in child protection. Two community members will receive the Advocate of the Year and the Excellence in Community Service awards for their exemplary victim service.
Brant said the event will also feature firsthand accounts from Idaho State Police.
"ISP officers are going to attend and tell us a story, a really captivating victim rescue story," she said.
Tickets are still available for community members who would like to attend the Ray of Hope lunch. Tickets are $20 each. To register or make a contribution, visit www.northidahocasa.org, email Kristin@northidahocasa.org or text attendee names to 208-660-6707.