CASA of Santa Barbara County executive director Kim Colby Davis, left, board president Tony Papa and guest speaker Emily Rios Diaz at the “CASA By the Sea” benefit event held April 24 at Bacara Resort & Spa in Goleta. (Gail Arnold / Noozhawk photo)

[Click here for a related Noozhawk photo gallery.]

About 250 supporters of CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) of Santa Barbara County turned out for its annual spring benefit, “CASA By the Sea,” on April 24 at Bacara Resort & Spa, raising $150,000 for the nonprofit organization.

The goal of CASA is to advocate for foster children — the abused, neglected and abandoned children who have become dependents of the court. It provides training and support for volunteer advocates who are sworn officers of the court tasked with providing judges and referees with an independent assessment of the circumstances and needs of foster children.

These advocates base their assessment on interviews with key parties in the child’s life and their weekly meetings with the child. The advocate attends all court proceedings. He or she keeps an eye out for any unmet needs of the child and acts as an advocate to have those needs met.

For the extended cocktail hour, the Bacara’s beautifully landscaped grounds provided not only a nice visual backdrop but an efficient wind barrier that allowed guests to mingle al fresco on the sunny, warm late afternoon. Others perused the extensive silent auction items in the foyer.

In attendance was Barbara Margerum, who co-founded the local chapter of CASA 21 years ago. She was joined by her husband, Don; her son, Doug; and his wife, Marni. She has seen remarkable growth in the organization.

Currently, CASA has 284 advocates serving 436 children. Over the past five years, CASA has grown its volunteer force by 73 percent and the number of children served by 63 percent.

As dinner began, board president Tony Papa welcomed the guests and thanked all the donors and volunteers who allow CASA to fulfill its mission.

Executive director Kim Colby Davis then made the exciting announcement that CASA of Santa Barbara will be the first CASA program in California to serve every foster child in its area, which she believes will happen this year.

Guests were treated to a delectable three-course meal featuring pan-seared Chilean sea bass uni buerre blanc with seaweed mashed potatoes and braised baby leeks.

After remarks by emcee Gabe Saglie, and a rousing and profitable auction led by Todd Ventura, the mood turned sober when guests got a firsthand account of the tremendous value provided by an advocate from a former foster child, Emily Rios Diaz.

Now 23, Rios Diaz related how she was abused by her father when she was a child and put into the foster care system. She shared her gratefulness for her advocate.

CASA of Santa Barbara County co-founder Barbara Margerum, second from left, with her husband, Don, left, her son, Doug, and his wife, Marni, and emcee Gabe Saglie.

CASA of Santa Barbara County co-founder Barbara Margerum, second from left, with her husband, Don, left, her son, Doug, and his wife, Marni, and emcee Gabe Saglie. (Gail Arnold / Noozhawk photo)

“If it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t be standing here in front of you guys today,” she said. “Anything and everything that I’ve ever needed, from car accidents to a new pair of shoes, she was there, every step of the way.”

Calling her advocate “her lifelong friend,” Rios Diaz urged guests to make whatever donation they can so that CASA can help others like her.

She received a long, standing ovation from the crowd.

While a judge has other materials he or she considers, including a report from the county Welfare Services and submissions from the child’s attorneys, the CASA advocate’s report is valuable because it is based on the advocate’s extensive time spent with the child and interviews with key people. It provides the judge with a real understanding of the child.

For the weekly meetings, the advocate usually takes the child or teen to a public place where they can talk and, over time, trust develops and the child opens up. The advocate seeks to determine how the child is doing and whether there are any unmet needs, e.g. a new pair of glasses, and figures out a way to have those needs met.

To get a full picture of how the child is doing, the advocate talks to teachers, doctors, therapists, social workers, foster parents and others.

Advocates help with homework and arrange for tutors where needed. Advocates seek out donors for uniforms, equipment and other items normally paid for by parents. Advocates also do various social activities with their child or teen.

CASA is seeking volunteers for all three of its service areas — Lompoc, Santa Barbara and Santa Maria. The organization currently has 36 children on the waitlist for a CASA volunteer in Santa Maria, 14 in Lompoc and five in Santa Barbara. Extensive training and support are provided. Click here for more information about becoming a volunteer.

Click here for more information about CASA of Santa Barbara County, or call 805.845.8364. Click here to make an online donation.

Noozhawk contributing writer Gail Arnold can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkSociety, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.