Guest speaker and former organization recipient Candace Kaimuloa inspired a room full of supporters April 21 at the Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children Santa Barbara County “One Night Only with Frank and Dean” fundraiser held at the Birnam Wood Golf Club in Montecito.
A cocktail reception commenced with Las Vegas-style mock gambling in luxurious wood-paneled rooms overlooking the golf course as guests dressed in elegant cocktail attire mingled and enjoyed an array of tantalizing appetizers and assorted spirits before moving on to a dinner served on a heated outdoor patio overlooking the green.
Attendees dined on filet mignon and lobster tail, whipped Yukon gold potatoes and roasted asparagus as CASA board member Sabrina Bernardi and Executive Director Kim Colby Davis addressed the crowd before introducing Kaimuloa.
Kailua’s petite size and confident, spirited demeanor swept over the room of 200 onlookers as she explained her life story and unraveled an inspiring journey of survival. At only 11 years old, she and her younger four brothers were taken from abusive parents by a social worker and placed into a local group home.
“It was hard,” Kaimuloa said. “There was a lot of violence in our home, and so they took us away and put us in a group home, and then we all got split up into different foster care homes.”
Over seven years, Kaimuloa said she was reassigned to four foster homes and three group homes.
“It’s been a difficult journey, but my CASA volunteer, Genevieve (Knych-Rohan), was the one who helped my brothers and I be able to stay in contact and have more visits together, and she helped advocate for us in court if we needed anything,” she said.
Kaimuloa is one of more than 2 million abused and neglected children who have had CASA stand up, speak out and support them during foster care and through the difficult and often confusing judicial process.
Founded in 1995, the mission of CASA of Santa Barbara County is made up of trained community volunteers who are appointed by juvenile court judges to watch over and advocate for abused and neglected children.
Today, hundreds of local CASA volunteers act as mentors and guardians to protect children from becoming lost in an overburdened legal and social service system and diligently work to place abused and neglected children in safe, nurturing and permanent housing.
“CASA volunteers are highly trained individuals who come from all walks of life,” Davis said. “We have people as young as 21 to 80 years old who are CASA volunteers. There are currently about 184 volunteers with us, and this year we think that we are going to serve about 300 kids in foster care. But there are still about 650 kids in foster care in the county, so there is so much more to do.”
To become a CASA volunteer, you must first participate in a 30-hour training course that is usually conducted at the local CASA chapter office facilitated by program staff. After the initial training, 12 hours of continuing education is required annually.
A CASA volunteer has various duties and responsibilities focused on the well-being of the child, including gathering information from attorneys, teachers, caregivers and therapists in preparation for court hearings, attending court hearings, preparing a court report and monitoring the case until the child is placed in a permanent home.
Volunteers not only act as advocates but also flourish as mentors, spending countless hours engaging, listening and supporting the young person in need.
“I decided to become a Court Appointed Special Advocate eight years ago,” Knych-Rohan said. “I went through the training and shortly after I was informed that there was a family of five that really needed help. I’m from a family of five, so when I heard about Candace and her beautiful brothers it made me cry. I knew it was going to be my mission in life to make sure that they will have a better life and an adult that supports them.
“People would tell Candace that she’d never go to college and if she got accepted they’d have no money for it. But she just didn’t let that stop her. She’s like the train that just keeps going, ‘I think I can. I think I can.’ Candice now thinks she can.”
Kaimuloa, now 19, is a political science and communication major in her second year at UC Davis, and says Knych-Rohan has became like a mother and a best friend. During her speech, Kaimuloa described how the steadfast support of her CASA volunteer helped her make the transition from foster care to college.
“For me it was more of having some stability and having someone to depend on and someone to turn to when I was upset because it was hard to trust anyone,” she said. “I had this guard up until Genevieve came into my life, and she has impacted my life and my brothers. She won’t judge me, and encourages me to keep going and be the best that I can be. Now I’m going to college to become a lawyer and pursue a career in broadcast journalism to do what I can to make a difference and help other people. I want to change the world.”
Knych-Rohan told Noozhawk that 50 percent of foster care children typically end up homeless within the first year of turning 18 years old or graduating from high school and emancipating.
“There has been a real lack of funding, so here are these children who really don’t have a lot of coping skills or a support network and kind of get thrown out on their own, and most kids house surf or get low minimum wage jobs and can’t support themselves,” she said. “So to see Candace and her brothers graduate from high school and accepted to college is a huge step. Candace will be the first in her family to graduate from college, and I can’t tell you how proud I am of her.”
Davis explained that the agency would continue to recruit and train more volunteers and strive to keep the committed and passionate volunteers who are currently involved.
“We have wonderful volunteers, and their ultimate goal is make sure that every child gets the best possible chance because these children are in the foster care system and they have done nothing wrong,” she said. “We walk the child through what is often a difficult and trying time, and we are with them all the way.”
She said the funds raised at the benefit event would go to the implementation of recruiting and training volunteers.
“We are very touched about the generosity of our guests tonight, and without their support there wouldn’t be a CASA program because we are not government funded,” Davis said. “CASA only exists because of generosity from individuals and community foundations that step forward and support us so strongly because they know that children involved with CASA will have a better outcome and we make sure that the kids don’t fall through the cracks.”
CASA graciously thanks the following sponsors for their generosity at “One Night Only with Frank and Dean”: