By Curt Yeomans
Officials from the Clayton County Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) group, and its Ambassadors Behind CASA (ABC) support organization, waltzed away on Tuesday with a big check from organizers of the Clayton's Finest Dance Off competition.
Former Clayton County Police Chief, Jeff Turner, and GlenNeta Griffin, the public relations director for the Positive Press PR public relations firm, presented a symbolic, oversized check, for $1,200. It was presented to represent the actual $1,200 that was raised, for ABC's Christmas toy drive, through the first-ever "dance off" on Nov. 13.
Turner and Griffin were the organizers for the "Dancing With the Stars"-style fund-raising competition.
"It was an absolute joy to do this because it was done to help the children, and as you all know, with me, it's all about the kids," Turner said during the presentation.
Officials from CASA and its ABC group said they were ecstatic about the money that was raised during the Clayton's Finest Dance Off competition. ABC Chairperson Debbie Stinson said the money will be enough to make sure 12, to 14 children will receive gifts for Christmas.
"For the first year, it was a great turnout," Stinson said, later adding the amount of money raised during the event is "fantastic."
Every year, volunteers from the ABC group collect Christmas gifts, ranging from clothing, to toys, for children who are in the care of CASA volunteers, Stinson said.
Gerald Bostock, the child welfare services coordinator for CASA, said although he was at the event, and saw the hundreds of people watch the event, he did not fully realize how successful the fund-raiser had been until Turner announced the money total on Tuesday.
"We're very pleased," he said. "It's a surprise really. We didn't know how much money they had raised. We knew they had a lot of people attend the event, but when you see it, in the form of a check, it really hits home."
Bostock said volunteers in the program serve as "advocates for child abuse and neglect victims" in the court system.
Stinson explained the ABC group was set up six years ago by volunteers who wanted to do things to help bring some joy to the lives of children who are in the care of CASA volunteers. He added volunteers are often relatives of the children, such as grandparents, who live on a fixed income. Stinson added the CASA volunteers do not get financial support to take care of the children.
So, the ABC group steps up to help the CASA volunteers out by providing things, such as schools supplies, and Christmas gifts, for the children, members of the support group said.
"When they don't have the means to do that [purchase supplies and gifts], we step in and help them out," said ABC volunteer Bonnie Pratt, who is also the publisher for the Clayton News Daily.
Bostock added the group will be providing gifts to 170 children this year, which will be distributed to families on Dec. 18. Stinson said ABC has now collected approximately $8,000 to buy Christmas presents for CASA children.
"It will be stretched pretty thin, but we'll have enough money to buy gifts for all of the children," Stinson said.
Attendees at the dance competition also dropped off toys to be given to CASA-cared-for children who will attend ABC's holiday spaghetti lunch on Saturday, at Lee Street Elementary School. This is the fifth-year the ABC group has held the spaghetti lunch, Stinson said. She added children will get to enjoy a lunch, play games, make holiday crafts, and receive one gift during the event.
Officials were not sure how many toys were collected during the dancing fund-raiser, but it was enough to fill five tables in the Friends of Clayton County CASA office on Tuesday.
Turner and Griffin said the dancing competition was enough of a success that they want to make it an annual fund-raiser for the ABC group.
"I want it to be bigger and better next year," Griffin said. "I'd like to be able to provide toys for all of the children, and to raise twice as much money as we raised this year ... Anything that makes children's lives brighter is worth the effort."
Turner said he and Griffin decided they will continue to hold the dancing fund-raiser because several people requested that they do so.
He reiterated that it was worth making the competition an annual event, because children are the people who benefit from it.
"I'm only happy to do it," Turner said. "It's for our kids, and our kids are worth a dance."