Four hundred children will stand on the Sunken Garden Lawn of the Santa Barbara County Courthouse on Oct. 29 with a message to the community: We need your help.
The children will be life-size cardboard cutouts of foster children as part of the Forgotten Children Project, an effort by the national CASA, or Court Appointed Special Advocates, organization.
In May, 4,000 cutouts were set out on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to demonstrate the number of children who enter the foster system every week.
CASA’s Santa Barbara County chapter is the first in the country to display the cut outs in its own region and for a double purpose.
The first will be to show the community how many foster children in Santa Barbara need their help. On Oct. 29, supporters of CASA will carry 400 cardboard cutout children through downtown Santa Barbara to raise that awareness. The second is to commemorate CASA’s new 1,600-square-foot office in the courthouse, which is set for a grand opening Oct. 30.
“My hope is that it will create more awareness that … in this beautiful place that we live in, abuse and neglect does occur and foster kids do need our help,” said Maria Long, executive director of CASA of Santa Barbara County.
CASA signed a 10-year lease with Santa Barbara County for just $1 a year, but still had to raise funds to renovate the space. The Women’s Fund and Orfalea Fund each stepped in to provide $180,000 to prepare the building for CASA’s 10 employees as well as all the foster children with whom they interact.
“We have a full kitchen so we can actually teach our children to cook. We’ll have a children’s center where the kids can come to do homework and projects,” Long said. “We have a conference room. And we’re adjacent to the courthouse where we do our work since we’re the only nonprofit to do our work at the courthouse.”
Rather than holding a more traditional golf tournament fundraiser, as CASA has done in the past, Long said the nonprofit is using the Forgotten Children Project as a way to underwrite the cost of putting the event together.
“Rather than doing something the same old usual way … we wanted to capture the community’s attention to get them to participate,” she said.
The cardboard cutouts on the courthouse lawn will be there from Oct. 29 to 30 only before moving on to Los Angeles for a different CASA event.
Long was at the national Forgotten Children Project in Washington, D.C., in May which in addition to the cutouts, included each chapter’s representatives taking cutouts with them to speak to their respective senators about how much foster children need their help. That’s when the idea struck Long to bring the cutouts to Santa Barbara.
CASA has been collaborating with nonprofits throughout Santa Barbara County to bring them on board for the project. In mid-September, the United Way and its partners helped paint CASA’s new office at its Day of Caring.
Many nonprofit groups also will be marching through downtown Santa Barbara with CASA on Oct. 30 to show their support.