JOLIET – A grassy area near the entrance of the River Valley Justice Center in Joliet was adorned Tuesday with pinwheels – the national symbol for child abuse prevention.
Court Appointed Special Advocates of Will County volunteers, along with Exelon volunteers, planted 500 colorful pinwheels to represent the 500 children in the Will County court system. CASA of Will County helps abused or neglected children receive needed services, emotional support and safe housing.
Will County Juvenile Court Judge Paula Gomora praised CASA of Will County as her “eyes and ears” on children coping after being removed from homes and placed in foster care.
“When the child’s life is in complete turmoil, they may be the one constant in that one child’s life,” she said.
The pinwheel garden – shaped like a heart – not only represents children in the court system, but also recognizes National Child Abuse Prevention month and is paving the way for a garden with plants and flowers next year.
Rita Facchina, CASA of Will County executive director, said the garden would be for children.
“This would be a place for them to regroup and have something for them to think about other than their situation,” Facchina said.
Exelon partnered with CASA of Will County to provide volunteers to plant the garden, as well as put together 50 backpacks for children filled with supplies, such as toys and toiletries. Facchina said when children come under the care of CASA of Will County, they have nothing “but the clothes on their back.”
Pam Garcia of Frankfort became a volunteer for CASA of Will County last year. In November, she was sworn in and immediately given a case to work on. She said she loved being part of an organization that makes a difference, as volunteers are the “voice of the children.”
“It’s going to make their lives better that there’s an extra person there to care,” she said.
She said the number of pinwheels representing a child in the garden was “eye-opening.” She thought it would be nice to see a volunteer for each pinwheel. While 312 children were served by a CASA advocate last year, that was only 60 percent of children in need of an advocate, according to CASA of Will County.
Gomora said 500 children in the court system is a significant number, when considering Will County’s population.
“It is 500 families that are in crisis, where the state has stepped in because the parents are unable to discharge their parental responsibilities,” she said.
This year is the 41st anniversary of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act and the second year the act is being recognized by CASA of Will County.
The 1974 federal legislation marked the beginning of addressing child abuse and neglect nationally, and providing federal assistance to states, according to Child Welfare Information Gateway. April was proclaimed National Child Abuse Prevention Month in 1983.
Will County Chief Judge Richard Schoenstedt said CASA advocates “take the steam off” the distress experienced by everyone involved in court cases with children. They volunteer their time to make sure children get the help they need.
“[Children] have their whole lives in front of them,” he said. “They need all the help they can get.”
By the Numbers
• 312: number of children served by CASA of Will County in 2014
• $1,000: annual cost per child for CASA advocacy services
• $20,000: the amount CASA of Will County needs to raise in 2015 for an additional 100 children
To donate, call 815-730-7072 or visit casaofwillcounty.org/donate/
Source: CASA of Will County