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home : current news : current news July 22, 2018

11/7/2017 1:19:00 PM
Heartwarmers make a difference across region
Knitted bears and blankets going to CASA of Central Oregon from Make a Difference Day work by Heartwarmers. photo by Sue Stafford
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Knitted bears and blankets going to CASA of Central Oregon from Make a Difference Day work by Heartwarmers. photo by Sue Stafford

CASA volunteers make a difference in children’s lives
Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Central Oregon makes a big difference in the lives of young people who have a tough road. CASA volunteers are appointed by judges to watch over and advocate for abused and neglected children, to make sure they don't get lost in the overburdened legal and social service system.

A gathering of crafters known as Heartwarmers met last week to make blankets for CASA (see related story, page 15).

Right now, there are 338 children in foster care and CASA has 110 volunteer advocates, with another group of 20 being sworn in this month. Currently, 245 children have a CASA advocate and 93 children are waiting for an advocate. CASA staff and interns monitor those cases, but the goal is to provide actual advocates for those children.

Daytime training sessions are conducted two times a year, and CASA is hopeful they will be able to add a third training during evening hours, opening the program to more possible volunteers. Potential advocates complete a screening interview, background and reference checks, and 40 hours of training and courtroom observation. Prospective volunteers must be at least 21 years of age. Volunteers come from all walks of life. They all share a common desire to improve the lives of vulnerable children.

After being sworn in by a judge, volunteers are appointed to a child or family of children and spend an average of 10 to 15 hours a month advocating for their best interests. CASA advocates become "the eyes and ears" for the judge, and help ensure that the child is getting all court-ordered services. Because an average child in foster care will experience multiple foster homes and several caseworkers, the CASA volunteer may be the only consistent adult in a child's life during the time that child is in foster care.

It has been shown through numerous quantitative and qualitative measurements - from school performance, to behavior, to mental health, to moving out of the foster system more quickly - that a child with a CASA advocate has a better chance of success and moving forward in their life.

Anyone interested in learning more about becoming a CASA volunteer can visit or call 541-389-1618.

By Sue Stafford

What began with one warm-hearted woman of faith, Mary Tomjack of Bend, making a few fleece cut-and-tie blankets as samples, has grown in four years into a flourishing 501(c)(3) nonprofit called Heartwarmers, that covers children, seniors, the homeless, and cancer patients in Central Oregon with love, warmth, and comfort.

Groups of volunteers - now numbering 125 - in Bend, Sisters, and Redmond gather twice a month to create fleece blankets, teddy bears, scarves, knitted and crocheted hats and ear warmers, dog toys, soft children's blocks, and any number of specialty items created from the scraps left from making the blankets.

"Not one scrap of fleece goes to waste," Tomjack likes to say.

On Saturday, October 28, Tomjack gathered volunteers from all three groups together at Sisters City Hall for a special morning of making blankets as part of national Make A Difference Day. Tomjack had contacted the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Central Oregon office to offer blankets and teddy bears to the children who are being served by the CASA volunteers.

CASA Development Director Michelle Solley was at City Hall that Saturday morning to experience first-hand the love that created the blankets and teddy bears to be given to abused and neglected children by their CASA volunteers during their first meeting together.

During that initial meeting, it is extremely important for the volunteer to make a connection with the child. The soft fleece blanket and cuddly teddy bear can be the very things that open a defensive heart to the caring adult who will speak for the child in the courtroom, representing the child's best interests, and advocating for them until they are placed in a safe and permanent home.

While never soliciting for one dime of donations, Heartwarmers has been able to procure fabric, yarn, and other supplies for their projects. An anonymous donor has paid the rent on their small office in Sisters for the past two years. The generosity of the volunteers and people who are touched by the goodness of the Heartwarmers' mission keeps the lights on and the door open. That mission is simple - enriching the lives of others with heartwarming gifts.

The statistics over the last four years are staggering. Since 2013, they have donated 3,618 blankets - and another 75 will be donated this month. John and his mother, Joyce, have crafted 1,539 knitted teddy bears that playfully coordinate with the blankets. Knit and fleece hats for premature babies, cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, and homeless youth and adults total 1,229. Scarves made from fleece left over from the blankets total 296 with 125 more waiting to be donated to Meals on Wheels for Christmas gifts that will be presented in sewn cloth bags made by Heartwarmers volunteers.

Lap robes and walker caddies for seniors and hospice patients, and infant blankets that are edged with crocheting from donated yarn number 901. Cloth "heart tugger" dog toys and soft blocks for toddlers are constructed from leftover fleece scraps. The total number of gifts donated to date is 8,464.

Tomjack chose the CASA program as their focus for Make A Difference Day to honor Jean Thurber, one of the founding directors of Heartwarmers in 2013. Before moving to Central Oregon, she was a CASA advocate for 10 years in Portland. Thurber succumbed to cancer in June of 2016.

The gathering on October 28 made 18 colorful fleece blankets in two hours and paired them with coordinating teddy bears to help ease the heartbreak of abused Central Oregon children. There are more than 2,000 reports of suspected child abuse or neglect in Central Oregon each year. Last year, CASA advocates provided a voice of hope for 565 children in Central Oregon communities who spent at least one day in foster care due to alleged abuse or neglect.

To join Heartwarmers or make a donation call 541-408-8505 or email Visit their website at Donations can be made through PayPal on the website or by check sent to 178 S. Elm St., #105, Sisters, OR 97759.

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