Too often, children and youth in foster care are forced to grow up too fast – but Corpus Christi-based CASA of the Coastal Bend is making sure the kids they serve get to participate in the types of fun activities associated with a normal childhood through CASA field trip events.
These children already feel isolated, since they’ve often been separated from everything and everyone they know, explained CASA of the Coastal Bend Marketing and Recruitment Manager Samantha Koepp-Stemplinger. With these field trips, the CASA program is giving children the chance to take their minds off of worries like complicated court proceedings, moving foster homes or catching up in school – and just relax and have fun with each other, their CASA volunteer and the other supportive adults in their lives.
“Being able to participate in fun activities like every other child helps give them a break from focusing on their world being turned upside down,” Koepp-Stemplinger said.
For the August event, CASA of the Coastal Bend collaborated with local artist Leah Kaestner to host an art workshop. Kaestner was moved to approach the program after seeing the short film Emily’s Dragon, which tells the story of a young girl being removed from her home and how her CASA volunteer makes a difference in her life.
The youth who attended the workshop each created two paintings, keeping one and giving the other to CASA. In addition, Kaestner created three special Emily’s Dragon-inspired pieces, which were raffled off in an Aug. 10 event with the proceeds benefiting the program. She also featured the pieces the youth created in her pop-up gallery through Aug. 24.
“CASA’s mission resonates with me and is something I truly believe in. The video, Emily’s Dragon, was the inspiration for the three pieces I created for this benefit,” Kaestner said. “Each piece symbolizes a different perspective the child may have. I wanted to embody their emotion and give us all an opportunity to become their voice by raising funds for this great organization.”
CASA of the Coastal Bend also plans to display the pieces the youth created at their Ringing of the Bells community event during Child Abuse Prevention Month in April.
In addition to Kaestner’s workshop, the program has hosted four other outings so far this year: another art workshop with the Art Museum of South Texas, a trip to the Oso Bay Wetlands Nature Preserve and Learning Center, a soccer session with the Corpus Christi Sharks and batting practice with the local minor league baseball team. All of the planning and coordination for these outings is taken care of by the program, Koepp-Stemplinger said, so that the CASA volunteers can focus on helping the children have the best possible experience, building their relationships in a positive, stress-free setting.
“If the volunteer is not interacting with the child through an activity like mixing paint for an art project, they are cheering them on while the child is up to bat with professional baseball players,” she said. “More than just a fun activity, it is an opportunity for these children to feel supported by an adult who is a positive role model that is genuinely invested in their best interest.”
Each field trip has also helped the program promote awareness of CASA and cultivate relationships with the community by building from the resources they have readily available, Koepp-Stemplinger said.
“Most people have a desire to support CASA’s mission, but becoming an advocate or writing a check is not always an option for everyone,” she said. “In some capacity, though, everyone has a gift to share – it’s finding out what it is and how that can be incorporated into meaningful experiences for foster youth.”
The program is in the process of planning field trips for the coming months, including a visit to the Harbor Playhouse community theater in December for a performance of A Christmas Carol. The children will get the chance to tour backstage before the show, and a local cosmetology school will be doing theater-style hair and makeup.
“In the midst of the chaos surrounding their family life and living situation, these children need to still be able to experience the joys of childhood while creating positive memories. Instead of lingering in foster care, these activities enable them to flourish in foster care,” Koepp-Stemplinger said.
These outings are one of the many ways CASA of the Coastal Bend is making a positive difference for the children they serve. Learn more about the Corpus Christi program and how they are creating brighter futures for children in their community on their website.