Northern Nevada CASA Conference Recap

Reno CASA Conference attendees

On Saturday, May 11th, at the gorgeous Renaissance Reno Hotel in Downtown Reno, over 60 CASA Volunteers, CASA Program Staff, guest speakers, and panelists gathered for the Northern Nevada CASA Conference. The theme of this year’s event, “We are stronger together,” captured the essence of the afternoon. Through the work of CASA Program Staff and the CASA Volunteers, children in care are more likely to have a more positive experience while navigating the system. CASA Volunteers make a difference.

Nevada CASA’s new tagline, By their side. For their Future, communicates what several speakers mentioned during the event. For Lorrie Curriden, Nevada CASA Board President and a CASA for 20+ years, her CASA child, now a thriving adult with a family of his own, commented that her number was the only number he memorized. For Pamela Kendall, a CASA volunteer to two of the youth featured at the event, her number was the number her CASA kids called when they needed help.

Kendra Materasso, Family Services Manager at the 2nd Judicial District CASA Program, perfectly summed up the event, “The 6th Annual State CASA Conference was a great opportunity for CASA Advocates in Northern Nevada to gather, learn valuable information about a topic so important in the work they do, but also be reminded that as a CASA, you are part of a larger Team, a Team that does heartfelt and rewarding, but also hard and emotionally challenging work, impacting the lives of children in foster case. An advocate after the conference stated that with such a heavy topic, leaving feeling energized and supported is a sign of a good conference. This conference was just that.”

The morning began with Adia Lancaster, founder of One Fam Project and New Hope Foundation International. Adia was our keynote speaker and her presentation, Empowered Eyes, delved into the world of human trafficking – how to spot the signs, how to talk to our young people, how to keep our youth from becoming targets.

The morning’s first panel discussion was moderated by Erica Brown. Erica has a wealth of experience and a broad background in child welfare and is currently a Case Manager for the Washoe CASA Program. She is a native of Las Vegas and has been working with children and families for a little over 25 years. She has some experience in law enforcement as well. Currently, Erica works as a CASA Case Manager for the Washoe CASA Program. Her insight as a former social worker was invaluable to the CASA volunteers in the audience.

The panelists (from left to right) were Susan Nissenbaum, a CASA volunteer since 1995, Anna Moore, a new volunteer at 1 ½ years, and Jodie Black a seasoned volunteer at 6 years. Their warmth and generous spirit of sharing to motivate and give CASA volunteers what they need to be successful was inspiring. We could have taken audience questions for hours, as we all have so much to learn. These women showed how we are stronger together!

After lunch, we began with a moving video by a former foster child, Emilio Swann. Emilio’s story moved many of us to tears—good tears, tears of hope and making a difference. Emilio’s CASA volunteer, Pamela Kendall, brilliantly shared the video and her place in his life.

Dashun Jackson, a former foster youth who was fortunate to have a CASA volunteer, spoke about the importance of CASA in a child’s life. Dashun was featured in the recent Super Bowl commercial, which aired in Las Vegas. He is the Program Director of Youth Care for St. Jude’s Ranch. His background includes co-creating the Nevada Foster Care Bill of Rights, which was passed in 2011. Dashun is the newest member of the Nevada CASA Legislative Committee.

Rounding out the afternoon, the event was truly one of the most powerful hours of the day. Diamond, Alberto, and Jakob took the stage, led by a kind and gracious moderator, Judge Michael Montero. Judge Montero is a Judge in Humboldt County, the newest program in the state. His passion for the work CASA volunteers do and the value they bring to children in care was evident. He helped these young former children in care have a safe space to tell their stories and for us to learn from them and to be better volunteers.

Judge Montero nurtured Alberto’s performing bug, and the conference was treated to a spontaneous acapella performance. Judge Montero wrapped up the panel after numerous questions and raw and honest responses from the young adults by giving them the book Three Little Words by Ashley Rhodes Courter, a young woman who grew up in care and had a CASA volunteer. These three young people gave us hope – hope that things can be different, hope in the work we do as CASA volunteers, and hope for the future of our world.

“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness” — Desmond Tutu

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