Sept. 5, 2004 – A lot of people consider pennies so worthless that they won't even bother bending over to pick them up off the ground. The leaders of the CASA — Court Appointed Special Advocates — program on St. Croix know better.
They're calling on caring members of the community to save up their pennies — and nickels, dimes, quarters, dollars and bigger bills — through the end of the year for donation to CASA's 2nd annual Pennies From Heaven campaign. And they know the effort can bring in thousands of dollars in change alone.
Last year's campaign netted 367,950 pennies, according to CASA of the Virgin Islands executive director Gail Shearer. Do the math: that's $3,679.50 in red cents.
Also donated were 10,506 nickels ($525.30), 12,800 dimes ($1,280) and 4,680 quarters ($1,170). The drive reached the group's goal of $20,000 with only three "high-end" contributions, the largest for $1,500, Shearer said.
This year, there's an added incentive that the organizers hope will result in a total of $40,000 being raised: Each penny donated will actually be worth two cents, thanks to a pledge of matching money up to $20,000 by IFW/Stone Tree Group, an Economic Development Program beneficiary headquartered on St. Croix.
Founded in 1994, CASA of the Virgin Islands is a private, not-for-profit organization established to help ensure that no abused or neglected children needing care slip through cracks in the social service and justice systems. The organization, which recently moved its offices to Vitraco Park in Golden Rock, relies on trained volunteers who serve as advocates for children in the foster care and court systems, children who have been removed from their families because of abuse or neglect.
The volunteers monitor the children's cases to see the youngsters get the services needed to restore stability in their lives. "This can include a safe, stable foster placement, medical care, counseling and being placed in the appropriate educational setting," a CASA release stated.
Shearer said the fund-raising campaign is aimed at "anyone who has ever read or heard in the news about abused or neglected children and thought, 'I would help if I could, but I don't know what I can do.' Or 'I'd like to make a donation, but I can't afford to write a big check, and my few dollars can't do much.'"
CASA "wants to make it easy for everyone to feel good about helping," the release stated. "Everyone has change in their pockets or in a jar on the dresser. From the schoolchild who finds a penny on the ground to the individuals, companies and organizations that can afford the larger donation, it's really that simple."
The release noted that IFW/Stone Tree Group, LLLP for the second year has pledged to donate to the CASA program in the form of a matching grant: "IFW will match, penny for penny up to the $20,000 target, money raised by the CASA program in the coming months. The idea behind a matching grant is to demonstrate that the community values this program and is willing to support its continued existence and operation."
Donations are welcome from individuals, but the emphasis of the campaign is on group efforts — by school classes, business offices, churches, civic organizations, sororities and fraternities, scout troops, clubs, professional associations, sports teams and any others. All it takes is "someone to take charge and be creative," the release stated.
On Oct. 2 (a Saturday), from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., CASA will have a drop-off event at Sunny Isle Shopping Center — as it did last year — with a Children's Day program co-sponsored by the shopping center. There will be storytelling, dance, games and all sorts of kiddie pleasures for a penny (including candy, balloons and face-painting), with proceeds to benefit the drive. The festivities will take place by the fountain and stage in the shopping complex.
The 2003 CASA campaign turned into a wider community involvement than anyone had anticipated, according to Shearer. Educational Complex, Country Day and Good Hope Schools organized their own drives and students there "ended up volunteering community service hours to wrap a lot of those coins," she said. "Some came to the office; some did it in a group at home with a mom supervising."
She added: "Good Hope collected almost $1,300 by challenging the classes to a pizza party for the winners. Country Day had a wishing well. At Complex we taught the kids how to plan and carry out an event — how to do advertising and marketing, plan a prize, make the containers, etc. And they then challenged the four classes to donate."
The fact that the drive turned into a grassroots community event "was almost as exciting as raising the money itself," Shearer said.
Contributions came in from off-island last year, as well, she said. A Crucian living in North Carolina saw a story in the Source about the 2003 drive "and sent us a very nice thank-you for the work we do and a contribution. He remembered being a child on St. Croix and wants kids here to be happy and healthy."
Shearer noted that CASA also will be "reviving an old fund-raiser this year, Chefs of St Croix." It's a project consisting of cooking lessons taught by some of the island's best-known chefs in their own kitchens for classes of no more than 15 participants. The price of admission is a donation of at least $50 to the advocacy organization.
"We did it in 1994 then canceled in '95 due to Hurricane Marilyn," Shearer said. The classes are scheduled for the last two weeks in October and the first two weeks November, she said, with the chefs to be announced.
To learn more about participating in the Pennies from Heaven campaign or the Chefs of St. Croix classes, call the CASA office at 719-2272. That's also the number for leaders of after-school programs to call in order to reserve booth space to distribute information at the Sunny Isle event.
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