Making a Difference in a Child's Life
By Claire Gibson Webb
If you enjoy bike riding, supporting a worthy cause, or just being active in the great outdoors, don't make any plans for Saturday, May 19th! Court Appointed Special Advocates of the Eastern Panhandle (CASA-EP) is holding their sixth-annual CASA River Century fundraising ride, with all proceeds directly benefiting the local chapter of the organization. Not a bike rider? Then come out and volunteer to serve those who are!
It's a big event, with serious riders covering a 100-mile loop of both Jefferson and Berkeley counties. Other riders, who may not want to exert as much time or effort, can opt for the lesser fifty- or twenty-fivemile rides. Participation in the ride has been steadily growing since its inception, with last year topping out at 230 riders.
"This year, we are hoping for five hundred riders," enthuses Tim Hott, the man behind the logistics and coordination of such an event. Hott started as a rider four years ago. After asking a rest stop volunteer how the organization did their fundraising, he decided to join the planning committee. Eventually, he co-chaired the committee, until this year, when he decided to focus on the logistics-everything from website redesign and route mapping to the volunteers manning the rest stops and the vendors showcasing their wares back at the starting point.
CASA of the Eastern Panhandle is part of a larger association of more than 1,000 programs across the United States. Their mission is simple, yet powerful: to act as a voice for children who have been removed from their homes due to abuse and neglect. A volunteer, or advocate, who has undergone intense training, is appointed by the court system to investigate a case. The investigation can involve everyone from the child and their parents to neighbors and doctors.
The end goal is to provide the judge, or court, with a recommendation on the best and safest permanent placement for the individual. If other services, such as counseling or housing assistance, are needed for the child or their prospective caregiver, the advocate will coordinate with other agencies to ensure that those are provided. Currently, there are approximately 100 active volunteers that have served as a voice for nearly 400 children in the tri-county area.
CASA-EP does not receive any state funding; all expenses are supported by grants, private or individual donations, and fundraising. They have several fundraisers a year, and the CASA River Century ride is their biggest net for support. Riders come from the Panhandle, but also from surrounding states-Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Virginia, to name a few.
To generate increased publicity and interest in the event, Hott has reached out to bike clubs, such as the Washington Area Bicyclist Association-with a ridership of 25,000. Hoping to double the number of participants from last year, Hott is confident that it can be done. With future sights set on numbers that will soar well above 500, he admits that it is necessary to pace the growth, always keeping the experience of the rider in mind. Planning for such an event is extensive. Even after the annual Saturday comes to a close, planners only take a month or so off, and then jump right back in to getting ready for the next one. The ride takes about a year to put together. To date, the efforts are paying off, not only with increased ridership, but a steady growth of proceeds that directly benefit CASA-EP and the overall mission.
For those who come out to support a loved one, there will be plenty to keep them occupied while they wait. The ride will start in front of the Butcher Center on the campus of Shepherd University. A DJ will keep the supporters entertained and enthusiastic for the duration. Local area organizations and businesses will host vendor stations, and there will even be free food available to those who are mingling, cheering, and waiting. "We want our riders, and supporters, to come out and have a fun day and support a good cause," encourages Hott.
All rider levels are welcome, and it's not necessary to complete the entire distance selected. Registration fees vary, depending on the loop or route chosen. Help and support is readily available for anyone that may need assistance. Every rider is provided with a cue sheet that gives explicit directions on where to go, which will complement the markings along the roads. Also provided to every rider-a swag bag! These bags are full of goodies, such as wristbands and goo packs (an energy booster for those of us not familiar with bike rider terminology). Rest stops are strategically placed along the routes, equipped with volunteers, water, snacks, and restrooms. The ride is held rain or shine.
Ready to ride? Visit www.CasaRiverCentury.org for further questions, or to sign up. Not sure if you want to commit? You can register on site right up until the day of the race. If you are interested in finding out more about serving as a child advocate with CASA-EP, visit www.casa-ep.org. Better yet, come down to the starting point on May 19th, and check out the action!