By Michael Davis
When the water reached the top of the giant bucket, and the thousands of rubber ducks inside were just about to go overboard and down the plastic water slide, Ed Wise and Jon Crane shut off the fire hose and waited for the signal.
Dozens of spectators gathered along the edge of the curvy race course that snaked down the lawn of the historic courthouse in Jonesboro toward a grated storm drain. The men, women and children were awaiting the start of the 11th Annual Darlin' Duck Derby, the signature fund-raiser of the Clayton County Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program.
When they got the go-ahead, Wise and Crane restarted the fire hose, and the ducks began to spill over the edge of the tank into a shallow wading pool. When the pool was full, the ducks began making their way toward the end of the course, where volunteers were waiting to pluck them from the water and read off the numbers written on their bottoms.
The first duck to cross the finish line was Jonesboro resident, Robin Jones', according to Sabrina Crawford, the co-owner of Heritage Cadillac-Saab in Morrow, which put up the $2,000 prize Jones won. Texas resident, John Murphy, won the second-place prize of $1,000 from the dealership, Crawford said.
CASA supporters paid $5 per duck, or $25 for a "six quack," to enter the fund-raiser. Prizes for those whose ducks were among the first to finish the race included cash, jewelry, tickets to sporting events, gift baskets and gift certificates.
Jeremiah Almond, a Peachtree City resident, who works for the Clayton County Fire Department, brought his 1 1/2-year-old son, Kennedy, to the derby on Saturday.
"I thought, well, we're just going to be sitting at home, so we might as well go out and help them raise some money, and me and my son can have a father-son day," he said.
CASA Child Welfare Services Coordinator Gerald Bostock said the CASA program recruits and trains volunteers from the community to be advocates for abused and neglected children in the child-welfare system
"My staff supervises those volunteers that work directly with the children, and they're information gatherers," Bostock said. "They go out, they get to know the child, they bring information back to the court, so that when the judge is trying to make a decision about the child, they have more information."
Bostock said the program uses events like the Darlin' Duck Derby to help support its volunteers and highlight the work they do.
He said Clayton County CASA has about 200 volunteers, and that the program advocates for about 86 percent of the 259 children currently in foster care in the county. He said program leaders would like to have enough volunteers to advocate for all of the children.
"We're the most consistent factor in that child's life. That child may have three or four case workers during the life of a case. They most likely will be moved to two or three foster homes," Bostock said. "But they can always count on that same CASA volunteer from the beginning that stays with them, that sees them every, single month, and is at that courtroom to speak on their behalf."
Crawford, whose dealership is one of the event's main sponsors, said the derby is not only a source of revenue for the program, but also helps CASA recruit new volunteers. "It's extremely important from a financial standpoint, but it's equally important that it brings awareness," said Crawford, who is a CASA volunteer and is chairperson of the Friends of Clayton County CASA, the program's advisory board. "When people start hearing about what we do, they become interested in being a volunteer."
Bostock said Saturday that it would likely be later this week when organizers determine how much money was raised at this year's event. "We're hoping to at least match, if not exceed, what we did last year," he said.