ABATE donation to provide Christmas gifts to CASA kids

Sixty Jackson County Guardian ad Litem/Court Appointed Special Advocates children and other kids in their home will be guaranteed a good Christmas this year.

That’s thanks to American Bikers Aimed Toward Education Indiana Region 7 Jackson County partnering to make it happen.

ABATE is a not-for-profit safety, educational, charitable and advocacy motorcyclist organization that aims to promote safety, protect rights and help others.

For about 28 years, the local chapter collected donations to buy gifts for Jackson County Head Start kids and their families and received help from Santa in handing them out during a Christmas party.

The group’s annual Shari Stahl Memorial Toy Run, which began around 1990, is a big fundraiser to put toward the gifts, and chapter members spend a night shopping for age-appropriate presents.

This year, ABATE became connected with the GAL/CASA program and decided to help those kids.

The volunteer-powered program provides advocacy to child victims of abuse and neglect to ensure they remain at the forefront of the court proceedings and find a safe, permanent home as quickly as possible.

The primary sources of funding are the Jackson County Council and Indiana Supreme Court, while additional funding sources include grants, private donations, private foundations and fundraisers.

Autumn Gellhouse went to an ABATE meeting to talk about the program. Her father, Don Boling, is co-county representative for ABATE.

“We were talking and I asked her if she thought that they would like us to donate some money for them, so she got together with her boss, the wheels got moving and she came to one of our meetings,” Boling said. “She explained to us. She brought brochures. She does a heck of a job.”

Immediately, the chapter was excited to help.

“She didn’t even get home before the decision was made. When I called and told her that we were going to, she said, ‘You guys told me you had to vote,’ and I said, ‘We did. Everybody was all for it,’” Boling said.

“When his daughter came in and explained, kabam! We blew the top off the ceiling where we were at because we had something to help the kids,” said Darrell Crockett, safety officer for the local ABATE chapter.

The group recently presented a $4,000 check to Deena Personett, Jackson County GAL/CASA program manager, and Kate Garrity, executive director of Child Care Network, to put toward buying Christmas gifts for the nearly 100 kids.

Personett said invitations recently were sent to the foster care placements and their families, and those included a piece of paper to return listing each child’s age, gender, a want and a need. Once those are returned, CASA and ABATE members will shop for the gifts and then come together to wrap them Dec. 3.

The next week, at 1 p.m. Dec 10, the kids and families are invited to a Christmas celebration at Child Care Network’s new child care center in downtown Seymour. Attendees will have lunch before Santa arrives with gifts for the children, and there also will be some games and fun activities.

“We’ve always talked about wishing that we could do something for the kids at Christmas,” Personett said. “Once in awhile, there might be a regional activity going on or something, but those are few and far between. I explained to the ABATE group that this is something in my 12 years I’ve wanted to do, and they’ve made that dream a reality. We are very blessed that this group has come forward to us.”

A lot of the recent donation came from ABATE’s ride in September.

“This wouldn’t have happened at all without our sponsors,” Boling said. “Just like CASA has got dedicated people, we’ve got dedicated sponsors. Especially when it comes for the kids, their hands are in their pockets, and they are just willing to give.”

In the past when ABATE would go out and buy gifts, they only knew the name and age of a child and had no idea what they wanted. The group members are glad they will know needs and wants this time around.

“That’s the big plus right there. We’ll meet the needs of the children,” Crockett said. “A lot of kids would have not gotten any Christmas without us being able to help do this, and that’s what it’s all about. It’s a privilege to be able to share that with kids.”

CASA serves kids ages 0 to 18. Personett said once they age out, they can enter an elective program that will cover them until they are 22.

“Right now, we have a wait list of volunteers waiting on kids to serve, which is amazing. About 12 years ago, we had over 100 kids on the wait list,” Personett said.

“When I first started, we were only able to serve about 35 to 40 kids that needed it. With additional funding, we’ve been able to add staff and been able to serve more kids,” Garrity said.

A court-appointed special advocate is carefully trained, appointed by the court and supported by professional program staff. The program mobilizes, trains and empowers volunteers who make a difference by being there for a child in a very confusing and traumatic time, and they help judges make more informed decisions about what is best for a child’s future.

A guardian ad litem is an attorney or a volunteer who is appointed by the court to represent the best interest of the child. A GAL who is not an attorney must complete the same court-approved training that is required for a court-appointed special advocate.

Each child has one or two volunteers to represent them. That can be individuals, couples or friends who work cases.

“We’re always still looking for new volunteers because you have volunteers who leave for various reasons, so we’re always open to new volunteers,” Personett said. “That’s an ongoing need.”