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Hundreds run to support Big Country CASA, which needs many more volunteers

Sheridan Wood
Volunteers dressed as superheroes to pose for photos with kids before the race.

Big Country CASA’s sixth annual Superhero 5K took place in person for the first time since 2019 over the weekend. Because of COVID, the 2020 run was held virtually and organizers canceled last year’s run. Hundreds of people showed up to support the group that advocates for and helps protect at-risk kids in the Big Country.

Big Country CASA’s advocate and events director Rebel Taylor says the fun-run is the organization’s main fundraising event each year, “It’s a great opportunity for our partners with businesses and the individuals within our community to kind of all come together and say let’s make a difference.”

Sheridan Wood
Rebel Taylor welcomes runners and thanks volunteers and donors for their involvement in the fundraiser.

And she says it helps raise awareness about child abuse in the Big Country and the work CASA does to support kids. For the past nine years CASA has been organizing volunteers to assist abused and neglected children of Abilene and surrounding areas.

“We have one of the highest removal rates in the state of Texas per one-thousand children, and very few people know that. So if we can talk about child welfare and make people aware of the crisis, we can raise awareness and we can recruit some volunteers who might want to be an advocate,” Taylor notes.

The removal rate refers to how many children out of a-thousand need to be removed from their homes due to abuse and neglect. According to Child Protective Services, in the 2021 fiscal year, nearly one-thousand children in the Abilene region were removed from their homes, amounting to a removal rate of 7.5. For comparison, the next highest region is Tyler, with a 4.6 removal rate.

It’s appreciation for CASA’s vital work that drew more than 400 participants to the Campus of Abilene Christian University early on a Saturday morning.

Sheridan Wood
Some runners came dressed in costumes and capes to run the 5K route around Abilene Christian University's campus.

The Superhero 5K is something many of CASA’s over a thousand national chapters host, and in Abilene some even dressed as superheroes. In addition to the race, the event offered plenty of family fun activities, like a bounce house, bubble machines, and kids even got to pose for pictures with volunteers dressed as superheroes.

Some, like Texas Game Warden James Cummings, participated both for the athletic element and to support the community, “This is one of those things you can kind of do two things at once. You can run, check your times, and you can support a great organization, and the last part’s probably the best part.”

For others, like Shane Lyn Anderson, the run holds more sentimental value, “My oldest son is actually adopted. He was family adopted, not in foster care, but this is definitely an important function for us and our family.”

Executive Director of Big Country CASA Lee Ann Millender says CASA could not operate without community support, “We recruit and train volunteers to advocate for children in the foster care system. We can’t do it without volunteers and the funds to support them.”

And she says the staff appreciates all the support it gets from those who show up for the fun run, to others who donate, and the volunteers who give of their time on a regular basis.

CASA is still tallying the funds it raised from this year’s Superhero Fun Run, but officials anticipate the total will be more than $30,000 after expenses, that’s nearly $20,000 less than the organization raised at the last in-person fun run in 2019.

This week locals gave nearly $45,000 to the organization during Abilene Gives. All of the funds the organization raises helps train the volunteers who become court appointed advocates. CASA assigns advocates one case at a time, which can last a year or more, and the volunteers spend an average of 10 to 15 hours a month on their case.

CASA is constantly looking for more volunteers. Currently the organization is only able to service about 60% of children in Taylor county who need a court appointed advocate.

For information about volunteer opportunities, or to donate to Big Country CASA, visit BigCountryCASA.org.