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Volunteers helped move CASA for Kids of East Texas into newly renovated campus in Tyler this weekend

Volunteers assemble tables and chairs in the new CASA conference center in Tyler.
Volunteers assemble tables and chairs in the new CASA conference center in Tyler.(KLTV)
Updated: Jun. 6, 2021 at 5:52 PM CDT
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TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - Two-thousand and twenty marked 30 years that CASA has been helping children in East Texas. They broke a record last year, serving more children than they ever have before. More than 50 volunteers came together this weekend to help them move into their new facility.

The hum of drills, boxes being collapsed, and furniture being assembled filled CASA’s new facility in Tyler this weekend. CASA Executive Director Mary Jo Burgess said they began a $1.25 million campaign in the fall of 2019.

“All during COVID, we had a capital campaign. We raised enough money to purchase a new campus,” Burgess said. “I say campus because it’s four acres and two buildings.”

One of the buildings is for administration, and the other will house the Children’s Center and Conference Center. Burgess said before, advocates would have to meet with children in public settings. But now, they’ll have a safe and private place to meet.

“If the child is in a setting where they’re comfortable, it’s quiet, then they can have those conversations and they can say, ‘Oh, I’m a little scared,’ or ‘I’m feeling anxious,’” she said.

CASA has more than 200 volunteers, and they get yearly training to keep them up to date on new things. At their previous building, they’d have to squeeze 25 people into a room, but now, “This new center, state-of-the-art technology, holds 100 people, and we have the capabilities of having Zoom meetings,” Burgess said.

Volunteers from their board, advocates, and community members all came out. Michael Ace is a volunteer and board member, and he spent the day hanging blinds throughout the building.

“It’s really encouraging, and, you know, I think coming out of COVID, everybody is ready to start doing things that are meaningful, and I see that here today. A lot of energy,” Ace said.

Francisco Parra is in the UT Health Pre-Med enrichment program and said their group was helping build tables and chairs for the new conference center.

“We always love to help out the community in any way, especially as people who are trying to go into the medical field. We like to be proactive in the community,” Parra said.

The renovations and move-in came in time for CASA to help even more children in East Texas. In the last year, while students did remote learning, Burgess said they were helping almost 100 more kids than before.

“The fact that we had almost 100 more children, even during COVID is really concerning. We strategically had started planning on growth, not to that extent, but that’s what this whole campus and building was for,” Burgess said. “To be able to better serve the growing needs of our community, with our children, and then being able to recruit and train more volunteers. And keep them up to date on child development and trauma-informed care so that they are the best equipped to deal with the children that they’re working with.”

Burgess said CASA plans to have a grand opening of the children’s center and conference room for the community in the next few weeks.

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