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(Courtesy Photo)

For 364 days a year, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) in Eddy County give. Just one day a year, they receive.

Last month, 43 CASA volunteers were thanked at the annual Eddy County CASA Volunteer Appreciation and Recognition Dinner at Balzano Vineyard for their tireless efforts advocating for the best interests of 140 abused and neglected children, donating 2,358 hours in 2016.

“We really do need you,” State Rep. Cathrynn Brown told volunteers, noting as a state legislator, she has the opportunity to see the extent of the child abuse problem in New Mexico.

“The one true, original safe space should be childhood.”

Eddy County CASA Board Treasurer Shara Browning said she couldn’t adequately express what CASA volunteers mean to the community.

“If our kids are broken, the community is broken,” she said. “I can’t imagine what it’s like for you. What greater calling could there be than to make a difference in a child’s life?”

Each of the volunteers at the dinner received special recognition, and the evening also included Business with Heart and Volunteer of the Year awards.

A new award, Business with Heart, was given to two new businesses that have already shown support for CASA ─ Milton’s Brewing and Beast Work Productions.

Receiving the award for Milton’s were owners Lucas Middleton and Austin and Tiffany Weyant. When the business considered how to help in the community, they chose CASA very deliberately, Tiffany said, adding the organization has had a place in her heart since she worked in the school system.

Photographer Rick Bartock and Krista Matthews of Beast Work Productions organized a Bowl & Show bowling and car show fundraiser in Artesia last year that raised $1,500 for CASA. The second annual event is planned for Aug. 12. Rick is the son of Ted Bartock, Eddy County CASA board president.

The Volunteer of the Year award went to Jennifer Funchess Brann, who has served five children in three cases, giving 223 hours of her time. She was presented with a scrapbook filled with letters from family and friends who wrote about the difference she wants to make in the lives of children.

“When we thank you, it’s not just empty words,” said Libby Johnston, Eddy County CASA executive director. “You are the heart of our program.”

“The children you advocate for are sincerely blessed to have you,” she said, noting that volunteers go above and beyond, often putting their own lives on the back burner. “These kids’ lives would be totally different without you.”

To learn more about volunteering for CASA, call 575-887-5966, visit www.eddycountycasa.org, email [email protected], or search Eddy County CASA on Facebook.

Eddy County CASA is a partner of United Way of Carlsbad and South Eddy County.