In a Tyler mall, community members, volunteers and business men were seated in blue chairs outside a depart­ment store, to pay tribute to a traveling children’s memorial set up and organized by Court Appointed Special Advo­cates (CASA).

     The traveling memorial honors 227 children who lost their lives in 2010 due to abuse and neglect in Texas. Their names were displayed in black frames. That Wednesday was a special day for all who honored the cause. It was a time to remember and support the children of East Texas.

     “The trail of tears just keep coming,” said Michael Ace, Board Chair for CASA for Kids of East Texas. “See­ing a memorial like this is just tragic. One child lost to abuse and neglect is one child too many. But with us being an advocate, a voice, a constant in their lives, we can help them to not be further wounded.”

     The purpose of CASA is to help place abused and neglected children into loving homes and to advocate for them, making sure they don’t get lost in the legal social service system and the wrong foster home. It allows them a second chance at life and the opportunity to function nor­mally in society. But the organization is primarily volunteer driven, which means the support of community members and volunteers is a crucial part of its success and growth.

     “We are trying to raise awareness and we need folks in the community to help out,” Ace said. “You don’t have to be [very educated in a particular field,] you just have to have a passion for helping kids and the willingness to learn.”

     Ace emphasized the importance of the organization.

     “I see CASA as an organization that steps in and trains people who know the legal rights of a child, taking the time to visit these kids in their homes and really evaluating their situation, making a positive change,” he said.

     The traveling memorial that displayed hand and foot­prints of the children who died last year added a more per­sonal and emotional attachment to the cause and to the kids.

     Joe Gagen, CEO of Texas CASA, quickly walked over to the memorial of all 227 children displayed in glass.

     “You look at a memorial like this and you just can’t seem to understand… Jadia is a month old and Carlos is less than a month. You just can’t even imagine how that young of a life could be taken. That’s what I think, makes this display so powerful. It makes you want to get in­volved.”

     The Apache Press Club and Phi Theta Kappa showed their support for the cause, learning what it means to serve the CASA Kids of East Texas while honoring one of the three promises of TJC: community service. More than a dozen TJC students helped host the annual fundraiser Jus­tice Is Served that Friday, April 15.

     “I have learned what exactly CASA is and what it does for our community,” said Samantha Richardson, President of Phi Theta Kappa.

     Richardson explained how she is fortunate to have a loving family and how through their support, she has helped make a difference.

     “Community service opens up your eyes to all the little blessings we take for granted,” she said. “I’m grateful to have a good, loving, supportive family and I’m glad that my small effort made a difference in at least one child’s life. It was fun, easy and only took a couple of hours out of a Friday night. It was memorable and most of all, well worth it.”

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