The Atlantic Area Court Appointed Special Advocate program stepped out with its Dancing with the Stars fundraiser kickoff party Jan. 10 at the LaQuinta Inn and Suites. Prominent local community members will compete in the March 1 event at the Liberty County Performing Arts Center in Flemington.
Competitors include Riceboro City Councilman Chris Stacey, Carolyn Smith, Karen Bell and Dr. Mark Clayton. Stacey. Smith and Bell will represent Liberty County, and Clayton is representing Bryan County.
Each local star has until March 1 to raise funds for CASA with help from his or her team. The participants will compete with professional dancers from area studios for the best male and best female awards. Also, the dancer who raises the most money for CASA will receive an award. This is the first time Atlantic Area CASA has hosted a fundraiser of this variety.
“The CASA program in Savannah has hosted ‘Dancing with the Stars’ for six years, and it has been a very successful fundraiser,” Atlantic Area CASA Executive Director Petula Y. Gomillion said. “All the money raised at our event will go to the Atlantic Area CASA, which includes eight counties.”
The CASA program advocates for the interests of abused and neglected children involved in juvenile-court deprivation proceedings.
It is a national volunteer program that began in 1977 and was started in Liberty and Long counties in 1999. The Department of Family and Protective Services served 162 children from Liberty County in 2009. Today, the program has grown to include support for eight area counties.
“Our goal is to have a CASA for every child,” Gomillion said. “Without CASA volunteers, many times these children are voiceless.”
The CASA program volunteers undergo training and get to know the children they represent. Volunteers speak to everyone involved in a child’s life, including family members, teachers, doctors, lawyers and social workers.
“I want to help out the children in any way that I can,” said Bell, who represents Liberty County in the contest. “It is amazing to see what these children go through in their little lives, and programs like CASA are so important.”
Bell, who retired from the Army after 26 years of service, owns three businesses in Hinesville — the Ardyss Kbell weight-loss company, Rottweiler Vending and J&K Photo Booths. She originally is from Detroit and has lived in Liberty County since 2004. Bell will dance with professional dancer and dance teacher Joseh Marion.
“(The CASA) program is near and dear to my heart,” Bell said. “It is a blessing to the young children. I will do the best I can for them.”
Another retired Army veteran, Stacey, graduated from Bradwell Institute in 1975. He started Georgia Coastal Youth Inc. in 2002, to serve and mentor youth in Liberty County. Stacey is paired with professional dancer Jaunita Lowery, the artistic director at Inspirations Performing Studio in Allenhurst.
Carolyn Smith also will represent Liberty County. She is the administrative assistance to F. Barry Wilkes, the clerk and court administrator for the superior, state, juvenile and magistrate courts of Liberty County, as well as the Liberty County Board of Equalization.
“I am very excited to be part of this event,” Smith said. “It’s a such good cause.”
Smith has worked in the county for more than 15 years and was born in Hinesville. She will be teamed with professional dancer Jeff Trent, who teaches at the Academy of Ballroom in Atlanta.
Clayton, representing Bryan County, has a dental office in Hinesville. He originally is from Baltimore and was stationed at Fort Stewart during his four years of active-duty service as chief of oral and maxillofacial surgery at Winn Army Community Hospital. He is paired with professional dancer CC Powell, owner of Synergistic Bodies in Savannah.
“I look forward to raising money for CASA,” Clayton said. “I’m glad I can be a part of it.”
Admission to the March 1 Dancing with the Stars is $20. VIP tickets cost $35 per person or $60 for two and will include passes to receptions before and after the performances.