UMATILLA COUNTY — Eastern Oregon recently hosted its first statewide Court Appointed Special Advocate conference.
Jesus Rome, the local CASA program coordinator, said “The Impact of ONE” was successful due to the statewide effort of 22 CASA programs. The Sept. 23 event at Wildhorse Resort & Casino drew nearly 200 participants from across the state.
Keynote speakers included Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Xiomara Torres and Pamela Heisler, Oregon Foster Youth Connection founder. Both women shared about personal experiences growing up in the foster care system and the impact of CASA volunteers in their lives.
The conference theme touched Torres’ heart. Also, she was thrilled that Jan Brice traveled from Los Angeles to attend the conference and hear Torres speak.
“It was due to the impact of my one CASA, Jan Brice, who encouraged me and supported me throughout my life to attend law school and seek higher education,” Torres said. “I believe (if) it were not for Jan’s love and commitment in my life, I would have never pursued law and became a judge.”
Heisler shared a similar story of inspiration and encouragement from her CASA, who never gave up on her or her family. Later in life, Heisler’s CASA attended her graduation ceremonies and wedding.
Many of the conference workshops, Rome said, focused on the plight of foster kids and families in the system. Also, they highlighted the positive impact of community volunteers with foster youths.
During the lunchtime session, Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena, thanked CASA volunteers and other community partners for their advocacy efforts with foster children throughout Oregon. Also, Margaret Hansell shared about her years as Umatilla County’s CASA director, including the impact of CASAs on her life and the foster children they served. In addition, Nixyaawii Community School students performed a special dance and Maria Sanchez presented a traditional Mexican folk dance.
Rome called the CASA conference “an incredible experience.” He also expressed appreciation to the many people and organizations that helped by devoting their time or financial support.
“I’m so proud that we had the chance to share the rich unique diverse community of Eastern Oregon and the positive impact our community members make upon foster children within the rural eastern region of Oregon,” Rome said.