Last year, the dizzily ambitious leaders of Court Appointed Special Advocates of Travis County promised to lower the automatic age for child advocacy by their trained volunteers from age 5 to 2.
“We did it!” executive Laura Wolf proclaimed at the group’s signature fundraiser, CASAblanca at the JW Marriott this week. “Every new case of child abuse or neglect in Travis County considering a child who is at least two years old, we will cover.”
Wolf said the group, which hopes to be the first urban CASA to provide an advocate for every single child in system, wants to serve 2,000 kids this year with 800 volunteers. “That would be a record,” Wolf said. “We probably need another 300 volunteers to reach every child.”
A few galas ago, then-president of the board David Rubin promised just such a wide-eyed goal of universal advocacy.
Wolf hoped that the night’s benefit, which attracted 900 guests, could gross $1 million, which would likely net $760,000 for her team’s work. CASA of Travis County operates on a $5.5 million annual budget.
Not that long ago, CASAblanca was a well-meaning Moroccan-themed party with camels, belly dancers and fake gambling. The gambling remains; all else has changed for the better.
The group also remains one of the city’s most admired charities. For instance, Nancy Pollard, executive director at Friends of Children Austin, an extremely promising mentorship nonprofit based on a Portland, Ore. model, has been a CASA volunteer and hopes to match the older group’s success story.
What explains the loyalty to this particular nonprofit? Wolf: “We do what we say we are going to do.”
Chris Conyers, a retired auditor, is a CASA volunteer. His wife, Yolanda Conyers, chief diversity officer for Lenovo, the China-based multinational tech company, serves on CASA’s board of directors.
“I do it because of the joy of helping a kid who has been abused or neglected,” Chris says. A CASAblanca not unlike this one convinced him to sign up. “It made me want to volunteer for the first time.”
The Austin couple returned not long ago from three years in Beijing and reupped with CASA almost immediately.
“It’s such a well-run nonprofit,” Yolanda says. “Every investment or donation reaches its constituency.”
At the end of the evening, a CASA rep reported the take: $1,160,608.