CAC opens new facility, holds ribbon cutting

Greg Fischer Editor-in-chief
CAS community, volunteers and leaders gathered to cut the ribbon on the new CAC, May 15.

"Hopefully one day, they can reach a safe, healthy, permanent home," Rob Carlisle, CEO of Child Advocacy Services said to everyone gathered at the ribbon cutting for the new Children's Advocacy Center in Gonzales.

Carlisle shared that there are 17 CASA programs in Louisiana, and there are 15 Children's Advocacy Centers. He said that here they are proud to host both of those programs under one umbrella called Child Advocacy Services.

"We're one of three non-profits in the state of Louisiana who share both of those programs," he said. "Ninety-one cents on every single dollar for the last 11 years is dedicated to services to children."

Child Advocacy Services (CAS) held a ribbon cutting for moving into a new facility last week. The new building, located at 915 S. Nickens Avenue in Gonzales, opened in March. Among those present were Gonzales Mayor Barney Arceneaux, City Councilman Neal Bourque, Parish Councilman John Cagnolatti, and Parish President Kenny Matassa.

"We've referred children here," Cagnolatti said. "I'm on the parish mental health advisory board. It's just awesome! They do most of their work here through volunteers. The staff is very professional and know what they're doing. We're proud and fortunate to have them here in Ascension."

"Very happy and proud of the work that CASA does for our community," Mayor Arceneaux said. "Certainly it's important when you are dealing with young people. These folks do a great job. As a former law enforcement officer, I've seen them in action. And I know what they do for the families that sometimes can't do things on their own. I'm so happy for them because they've got a new location and building. It's bigger, and surely is going to be helpful for all the employees and as well for the families that need the services."

This is the fifteenth year that CASA is serving Gonzales and outlying communities. Lakisha Hills Penn serves as the Director of CASA. She's been there the longest at 16 years.

Before we get into what CAS provides to families in need, let's go over all these acronyms they use. There's CAS, which is the umbrella organization. It stands for Child Advocacy Services. Next, the CAC is the Children's Advocacy Center. That is the building that the work is done out of--the one that they held the ribbon cutting for. Lastly, CASA or Court Appointed Special Advocates is the name of the volunteers assigned to give individual attention to children of abuse and neglect.

"The CAC, that program is focused on children who have disclosed some type of abuse, whether it be sexual, physical . . . sometimes they've witnessed a murder or some other crime," Penn said. "They will come into our center and we'll capture their statement by a trained forensic interviewer on closed circuit television. The child is interviewed in a child-friendly environment instead of going to a police station.

"When we first started off, we had a mom and pop operation. We served three parishes--Tangipahoa, St. Helena and Livingston. Then around 2001-2 we got federal funding that allowed us to expand from three parishes to eight, then eventually ten.

"This job lets me see the best and worst of the human spirit. The worst obviously being that the people that were put on this planet to take care of their kids have let them down in some way. But the very best is everyday citizens--janitors, teachers, bus drivers have decided, 'You know what, I'm not going to be a head-wagger. I'm going to come in and get involved' . . . They come in and they advocate for these kids like they are their own."

"These volunteers are unbelievable how good they do," President Matassa said. "You're dealing with the most vulnerable of our society. Some of those stories are heartbreaking. But this is a very fine building from where they were."

Currently 75 volunteers serve 80-100 children in Ascension Parish.

"We can't continue the path that we've been on in not talking about child abuse and neglect," Carlisle said. "We can no longer say that what happens in my family, stays in my family."

Lastly, CAS has a 1541: Buttons of Bravery program. Since $1541 is what is needed to provide services for one child for one year. If you would like more information, call 1-800-798-1575.