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Fundraiser aims to help foster children

CASA Partners will launch its annual fundraising campaign with a screening of the documentary “Nicky’s Family.”

The movie will be shown at 6 p.m. Monday at the Bing Crosby Theater, 901 W. Sprague Ave. Proceeds will help the organization enrich the lives of neglected and abused children in the foster care system throughout Spokane County.

The film tells the story of Englishman Nicholas Winton, who rescued 669 Jewish Czech and Slovak children just before World War II. His story went untold for 50 years, until his wife found documents and transport plans in the attic.

Mary Ann Murphy, who organized the event, said the documentary is a moving account of the rescue, as well as how thousands of people around the world have since responded to the story with their own acts of philanthropy.

“This guy had to find over 600 foster homes in Britain. He started from the same place we do,” Murphy said. “These children needed other families to take care of them because they were in danger. Seeing the need, he just did it. That reminds me of CASA Partners.”

CASA Partners began in 1997 when a group of court appointed special advocate volunteers decided area foster children needed some of the simple pleasures of a normal childhood amid difficult and traumatic circumstances.

“We decided that there was more out in the community that needed to be done for children in foster care. … We do believe all children have the right to a safe and happy life,” said President Camilla Tilford, describing how they launched three projects, the Bee Kind Garden, Needs from the Heart and My Bag.

Each summer at the Bee Kind Garden about 40 foster children interact with nature and individual volunteers in a nurturing environment designed to build trust and confidence. While they care for plants and animals and participate in projects, they are loved and nurtured with the one-on-one attention children crave.

Throughout the year, Needs from the Heart funds specific requests for foster children, such as paying for music lessons or purchasing a yearbook.

“The state can’t buy things like that, but it can make all the difference in the children’s self-esteem,” Murphy said. This year the project gave out almost $15,000 to answer the wishes of 146 foster children.

Similarly, the My Bag project sends the message that foster children are valued. It provides a new backpack or duffle bag with age appropriate school supplies, toiletries, blanket and stuffed animal to all area children when they enter foster care.

“When children are removed they don’t get to take very many belongings, if any,” Tilford said. “Before we started this program the kids were called “garbage bag kids” because they had to move their belongings in a garbage bag.”

That label went away with the My Bag project, and Tilford said they expect to have provided 600 to 800 filled backpacks by the end of the year. “That figure has gone up,” she said. “This year there have been more children ending up in dependency.”

To supplement My Bag, CASA Partners has a fourth project. Each fall My School Bag provides school supplies and a new outfit for state dependent-children before school starts, with 270 children benefitting this year.

“It says your community still cares about you,” said Murphy of the projects. “Your parents may not be able to give you everything you need, but your community cares about you.”

In the past, CASA Partners has funded these projects through an annual donor letter, but last year that campaign funded only half of its $100,000 operating budget.

“We, as all nonprofits, are struggling for funds. We have been almost all volunteer. We have one part-time employee. … We are finding it difficult to raise that (money) to continue our projects,” Tilford said.

Murphy said the organization aims to raise $60,000 by the end of the year, with the film screening kicking off fundraising efforts.

“I hope that it is an enjoyable evening and that it inspires people to a higher level of philanthropy in their lives, whether that is toward CASA Partners or somewhere else,” Murphy said. “Spokane is the kind of town where people look out for each other. … I want the night to be the beginning of some great ideas that will enrich our community, especially our sense of caring for each other.”