MISSION — A Multnomah County Circuit Court judge and the founder of Oregon Foster Youth Connection will share about their experiences in the foster care system during an upcoming conference.
The impact and connections that Judge Xiomara Torres and Pamela Heisler made with CASA — Court Appointed Special Advocate — volunteers shaped their lives and career choices. The two women are keynote speakers for “The Impact of One,” a statewide conference that highlights the work of CASA volunteers.
The event is Monday, Sept. 23 at Wildhorse Resort & Casino, located off Exit 216 of Interstate 84, Mission. Check-in begins at 7:30 a.m. and the program runs from 8:15 a.m. to 5 p.m. Registration is $50, which includes lunch.
Torres escaped the war-torn country of El Salvador with her family at age 9. By the time she was 13, she entered the foster care system where she remained until she aged out.
In a YouTube video, Torres talks about the impact her CASA volunteer made on her life. Without her, Torres said she likely would have ended up homeless and she wouldn’t have pursued higher education.
“She’s just been an amazing support for me as an advocate and as a friend,” Torres said. “She became, obviously, someone that’s a dear friend to me.”
Heisler, who was in the foster care system for 11 years, went on to earn a master’s degree from Portland State University in public administration, specializing in nonprofit management. OFYC unites current and former foster youths as a way to advocate and serve as leaders to improve the child welfare system.
Currently serving as executive director of Prevent Child Abuse Oregon, Heisler also is on the board of directors for Foster Youth in Action, which organizes a national, grassroots network of current and former foster youths.
The statewide conference also features numerous other presenters, including advocates, legal and child services professionals, and motivational speakers. In addition, Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena, and his wife, Margaret, who served as Umatilla County’s CASA director for 12 years, will speak.
Jesus Rome, Umatilla-Morrow Head Start CASA program coordinator, said the conference is 18 months in the making. After attending the National CASA Conference in Boston, he was motivated to host a statewide conference in Eastern Oregon.
Locally, Rome said there are nearly 300 youths in the foster care system in Umatilla and Morrow counties. Of those, 100 are served by CASA volunteers. It is Rome’s hope that more people will get involved.
“I’m excited to spearhead this event,” he said. “It will be a way to celebrate our advocates and what they do for our foster children and community.”