Laguna Beach resident Jaynine Warner devotes her time to Court Appointed Special Advocates for the unique role it plays providing stability to a vulnerable group, the most disadvantaged foster children in Orange County.
Friends of CASA fundraises for the privately funded nonprofit that recruits, trains and supports volunteer advocates and mentors to abused and neglected foster children, representing their best interests in courtrooms and elsewhere. Even so, fewer than a third of the county’s foster children are assigned advocates, who undergo costly training before taking on the specialized duty.
“It really makes a difference where making a difference matters,” says Warner, president of CASA’s auxiliary and co-chair of its holiday luncheon and fashion show fundraiser on Dec. 6. The 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. event at The Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel in Dana Point contributes about $350,000 each year towards CASA’s programs.
Warner, who left her position as a regional airline captain to become a stay-home mom, learned of CASA through the Junior League of Orange County, which has supported the organization since its founding in 1985. She soon transitioned to working directly with CASA, because she felt such a strong connection to the project. “I really wanted to focus where my heart was,” said Warner.
Advocates provide kids with one of the few constant relationships in their life, since they experience little stability, often changing foster homes several times a year, Warner said.
Having a successful relationship with an adult has helped reduce the risk for foster children falling prey to human traffickers, and improves their feelings of self worth and chances of going on to college, she explains.
CASA supplies advocates for about 800 of the 3,000 foster children in Orange County, says Warner. Usually a judge or a social worker will request an advocate for an extremely disadvantaged child, but at any one time there may be anywhere from 100 to 300 children on the waiting list for advocates.
Becoming a volunteer advocate is a lengthy program, says Warner. Candidates must be thoroughly vetted, submit to a series of interviews and then go through an in-depth training. Then they go through a matching system to pair the right mentor with the right child, she said.
“You are the advocate for that child,” explained Warner. “You know who the abusers have been in their life…you’re that voice for the child.”
Advocacy goes beyond court appearances and requires building a trusting relationship, she said. It means meeting their needs, from college prep work to representing their interests in court to providing the normalcy of baking cookies, she said.
“The more money we raise, the more advocates we can train, the more children we can serve,” said Warner.
The centerpiece of the lunch fundraiser is a tree arrayed with starfish-shaped ornaments, each a handwritten wish by a child. Attendees have the chance to grant a wish, which can range from an outing with siblings to braces, or for a dining table to allow a foster family to dine together.
The starfish stems from a story about a boy who, finding hundreds of starfish stranded on the sand following a storm, began throwing them back in the water. When told his effort didn’t matter as he couldn’t save them all, the boy tossed another and replied, “It matters to this one.”
So that’s our motto, said Warner, one starfish at a time, one child at a time.
Tickets are $175 per person. For info: 714-619-5140 or visit http://www.casaholidayluncheon.com.