By Theresa D. McClellan
For the Fort Bend Star
It was 25 years ago when 6-year-old Larry Valentine sparked the interest of child advocates.
The Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) was a fledgling organization in 1991 where trained volunteers served as guardians and advocates for foster children in Fort Bend County. They advocate on the child’s behalf with teachers, doctors, foster parents and family members to ensure the child’s needs are being met.
The bright-eyed little boy eventually aged out of foster care, but not before receiving loving foster homes from volunteers that Child Advocates of Fort Bend CEO Ruthanne Mefford describes as “super heroes.”
Saturday night at the Marriott in Sugar Land, Super Heroes in the guise of caring individuals converged on the hotel to celebrate 25 years of supporting children. They called it their “Super Hero Gala,” which was a chance to dress up in formal wear or as their favorite crusader and financially support the organization by bidding on donated goodies in a silent auction and a live auction.
Mefford, dressed as Wonder Woman, shared the story of the growth of CASA and the Children’s Advocacy Center – two programs under the umbrella of Child Advocates of Fort Bend.
They have served 14,000 children since opening their doors in 1991.
Larry Lee Valentine was one of those children. Saturday night he appeared on the stage, a 30-year-old security guard with his own family – a wife and two boys.
“He is one of our success stories,” Mefford said.
As he saw his 6-year-old image projected on the screen, Valentine said later he was holding back tears. He was in foster care most of his life.
“I guess I never really knew what was going on, but mentally, when I got older, I just didn’t let that set me back from doing things and being a decent person,” he said.
Valentine said he grew strength from strong supportive women.
“My last foster mother took care of me from 13 until I aged out. She kept me going to church and it has helped me,” said the father of two.
As Mefford brought the family to the stage, the room exploded in applause upon seeing the return of one of their own. Since Valentine started in the system, more than 1,000 volunteers have been trained to support children. During that 25-year period, 14,000 children have been helped.
“That is a staggering number,” said mistress of ceremonies Michele Fisher.
Fisher a veteran voice talent and owner of Michele Fisher Voice Overs in Sugar Land, started the evening in prayer saying, “we pray that not one child slip through the cracks.” One of the social workers present Saturday could relate to that prayer. Though the job can be grim, she said she maintains a sense of hope in knowing that every child she meets gives her another chance to change a life.
Giving hope is one of the reasons John and Monique Abernathy said they attend the gala every year.
“We just love this organization,” said John Abernathy who has lived in Sugar Land more than 50 years.
Many of those in attendance had family or friends serving on the board. That’s what brought out Joel and Audrey Vann who endured the stranger stares as they walked a block to the hotel dressed in their Superman costumes. Once inside, they did not seem so strange amid the poster-sized “boom, pow, bam” signs announcing the gala.
Attendees used their super powers of generosity and frivolity to bid on special items in a silent auction and in a live auction led by auctioneer Fort Bent County Commissioner James Patterson.
They attracted a diverse set of goodies to bid on in the live auction from a 3-month-old wiggly AKC black Labrador retriever puppy to an ultimate guys adventure package that included hog hunting.
In the silent auction JJ Watt sports paraphernalia was popular. A signed football from the Texan sold for $550, a signed photograph went for $575 and a JJ Watt Texan framed “Battle Red” jersey went out the door for $1,195.
And someone really likes bourbon but doesn’t like mosquitoes. A 30-nozzle mosquito misting system got zapped for $3,000. A case of Bordeaux went for $2,200 while the 11 bottles of high-end bourbon, including four specialty glasses and a President’s pack of cigars with humidor, went for a smooth $3,500. By the end of the night they raised thousands of dollars to help child advocates continue their work. For more information on how to help, visit www.cafb.org.