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Thank you Kristin Bishay and all the people of CASA, and congratulations to everyone on this remarkable 35th anniversary of service to our community.  I am humbled to be in the presence of so many big-hearted, hard-working, visionary people. Our community’s welfare depends on the partnership of core social service agencies like CASA, and the many, many volunteers who have given their time, talents, heart, and soul over the last three and a half decades. Mr. Rogers, from PBS, expressed the way Bloomington feels about your work as CASA volunteers:  “Anyone who does anything to help a child is a hero” to us.

As CASA celebrates its 35th year, the need for your services could not be more acute. For 35 years you have supported children when their situation at home has fallen apart.  Over the last two decades, and especially within the last five to ten years, homes have fallen apart with a more heartbreaking frequency because of the substance use disorder epidemic -- a national crisis with deep roots that are being excavated as we speak.  I don’t need to tell YOU about the staggering statistics regarding opioid use and overdose rates in our state, but one statistic that might bear emphasizing is that Indiana’s foster care intake has more than doubled since 2001, the sharpest increase in the nation -- parental substance use being the reason many of these children are referred to foster care.

It is crucial to remove a child from a dangerous situation. But we know children in foster care are still at risk. We know that nationally just 6 of 10  youth involved with the foster care system graduate from high school by age 19, compared to 9 of 10 overall. And that less than 3 percent of kids who are involved with foster care earn a college degree by the age of 25, compared with nearly 30% of general population That’s a whole lot of children whose futures are diminished because of circumstances far beyond their control.

That’s where you come in.  When children’s fates are hanging in the balance, you swoop in to care.  You learn about their situation. You deal with the whole family and the network of forces that shape the child’s world.  You pay attention to the child, and comfort her or him. You are a safe harbor in a transient, unpredictable life. You help navigate the changes from one home to another, and school to school.  And you represent their best interests in court.

You are heroes who show up; and follow through.  You show children who may never have been able to count on anyone that they can count on someone.  And most of all, that THEY count.

When you do this, you are helping give them back their future.  And you help give our community a better future. How can we accomplish our community’s goals -- in terms of the economy, our quality of life, affordable housing, etc -- if a big chunk of our future community has diminished opportunities because of their rough start?

You heroic, visionary, big-hearted and courageous CASA volunteers, are not letting that happen.  For 35 years now, you have insisted on protecting and lifting up our community’s most vulnerable members out of the darkness, so that they can shine.  Because you champion them, they can be champions. Lady Bird Johnson described the importance of our own expectations and actions when she said -- “Children are likely to live up to what you believe of them.”  Thank you for believing in our children.

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