the festival of chairs
Story by Audrey Hanes, Photo by Amy Long
Later this month, more than 50 chairs of all shapes and sizes, each of which was painstakingly designed and decorated by students and artists from Jonesboro and the surrounding area, will be prominently displayed in the windows of Barnes & Noble at The Mall at Turtle Creek Mall for CASA’s third annual Christmas Festival of Chairs. At the end of the showcase, the chairs will be auctioned off, and every dime of the proceeds will go towards recruiting and training court appointed special advocates for children. These volunteers will be the voice of more than 100 area children who are abused and neglected each year.
Since the inception of CASA advocacy, the organization’s volunteers have helped more than one million children across the nation find safe, permanent homes. Jonesboro is a part of the 2nd Judicial District, which was founded in 1995 to aid children in Craighead, Greene, Clay, Poinsett and Mississippi Counties.
Three years ago, CASA Executive Director Carla Borden and Volunteer Recruiter and Trainer Barbara McMorries decided to initiate a charitable event to benefit the local division of the organization. They settled on a Christmas Festival of Chairs, an event that was already successful in other CASA divisions. The community has embraced the event, and Borden and McMorries expect this year’s event to be better than ever.
“CASA is a heart thing,” said Borden. “People who do this care about children and want to make a difference, which is why it has been relatively easy to have so many submissions each year. While the event is a great way to raise money for CASA so that more advocates can be recruited and trained, the Festival of Chairs is also a way to spread the word about how to support CASA in general.”
Each participating school and artist was given two months to make their vision come to life. Most of the chairs are either made from scratch or are refurbished, and they vary in theme from ASU to princess to John Deere and everything in-between.
To kick off the 2011 Festival of Chairs, several chairs (pictured) were displayed in participating local businesses during last month’s weekend of Christmas open houses: Leslie Tucker decorated two chairs for Full Sun, Wendy Spanos decorated a chair for Wenfield’s, Lana Jackson decorated one chair for Emily Ann’s and another chair for Posey Peddler and Lauren Dawson, Jackson’s 14-year-old granddaughter, decorated a stool for Bennett’s Nursery. These chairs were all part of a silent auction, with all proceeds benefiting CASA.
Chi Omega of Arkansas State University, Brookland High School, Crowley’s Ride Academy, East Poinsett County High School, Greene County Tech High School, Harrisburg High School, Piggott High School, Trumann High School, Valley View Gifted and Talented and Vickie Pasmore’s Harrisburg Elementary School’s art class all donated elaborate chairs for the upcoming Festival of Chairs that will take place at Barnes & Noble from Dec. 3-9. On Dec. 9, Barnes & Noble will have a CASA day; if shoppers tell the store that they’re shopping for CASA that day, a portion of the proceeds will go towards the charity. The following day, on Dec. 10, the chairs will be moved into the mall’s courtyard for a silent auction; according to Borden, it’s a silent auction for those who refuse to be silent about child abuse.
“The best part is, although you have to be 21 to be involved with our organization, this event lets children of all ages be involved,” she said. “Not everyone has money, but lots of people have artistic talent, and they can give in that way.”
Those who do get involved are rewarded by making a lifelong difference in the life of the children they speak up for. Whether the CASA volunteer is a college student or a 74-year-old grandparent, once they are appointed by a judge to an abused or neglected child, they are there for that child, no matter what, until the child’s court case is permanently resolved. In many cases, those advocates are the only constant during an extremely tumultuous time in the children’s lives.
“Because of the confidential nature of what we do, CASA isn’t talked about a lot,” explained McMorries. “People don’t always need to adopt or become foster parents to help a child. These children need advocates, too, and these advocates can make a lifelong difference. As we like to say, ‘We don’t have any control over what happened to these children in the past, but we can have an impact on their future.’”
For more information about Northeast Arkansas CASA or the Festival of Chairs, please visit neacasa.org or call 935-1099.
Christmas Cards for CASA
Several years ago, Ritter Communications contacted CASA with an idea about how to spread the word about the non-profit organization of court appointed special advocates for children. The company proposed Christmas cards that would not only promote and raise money for CASA, but would also feature the winning artwork from an annual contest for kindergarten through sixth-grade students who attend school in the five Northeast Arkansas counties that CASA represents.
Finalists are submitted to Ritter, which then chooses a winner from each participating school. Each year, the company pays to have the cards printed and sends them out to clients, friends and family.
“Ritter participates with CASA because we are a local company and we like to support local charities,” said Margaret Holloway, the vice president of public relations and community development at Ritter. “CASA has a great mission in helping those who can’t help themselves.”
This year’s winners are Naturie Harris from Jonesboro Math and Science, Lauren Vitiello from Bay Elementary, Hayleigh Gurherie from Corning Park Central Elementary, Kallie Adamson from Green County Tech Elementary, Jordan Moore from Gosnell Elementary, Andrea Fitzpatrick from Armorel Elementary, Toriana Miller from Osceola West Elementary and Caroline Morgan from Trumann Cedar Park Elementary.
Cards are $10 for a pack of 10 and are available at CASA, 511 Union St., Suite 327, or by calling 935-1099.