There have been literally hundreds of times in my nearly 20 years of living here when I have heard people say, “I have never experienced a town like Sandpoint.” It is a sentiment felt by nearly everyone who visits here or calls Sandpoint home. While many remark about the breathtaking beauty of the mountains and lake, it is the experience of Sandpoint and its people that leaves many in awe. From the nonprofit organizations to the hardworking local business owners, Sandpoint is a generous community that is eager to help its fellow friends, coworkers and neighbors whenever a need arises.

 

It is that sense of community that Sandpoint Living Local seeks to bring to you in each monthly issue. From the “feel good” stories of people helping one another to celebrating our youth who work hard to make our community a better place, we connect the community.

 

It is in that spirit that we are celebrating many of our finest businesses, people and organizations in an event on March 2 at the Heartwood Center in Sandpoint. At the Sandpoint’s Finest celebration, we will recognize 30 of Sandpoint’s finest in a multitude of categories including, but not limited to, evening entertainment, fine dining, spa services, brewery, dining with a view, person of the year and much more.

 

Along with our premier sponsor, Gateway Financial Partners owned by Ron Denova and Trudy Leen; our gold sponsors, Go Sandpoint, Trinity at City Beach and Forty-One South; and silver sponsors Blooming Event Design, The Heartwood Center, Rocket Fish Digital, James Hutchens - Certified Public Accountant, the 219 Lounge, Devon Wade, All About Weddings, Funny Booth and Lisa Turner Photography; Sandpoint Living Local will bring you a night of appetizers, beer and wine, music and dancing. The night will include the announcement of our winners as voted on by the community of Sandpoint. It’s an event you will not want to miss!

 

We invite you to vote on our website, SandpointLivingLocal.com, and click on the link in the upper right to vote. You can only vote once per device, so vote thoughtfully.

 

Giving Back to Help Children Thrive

 

With our focus on giving back to our community that has supported us throughout the years, we have chosen a nonprofit to benefit from our special event on March 2. While there are so many deserving organizations that need help, we chose CASA of North Idaho (Court Appointed Special Advocates).

 

The CASA program began in the 1970s by a judge in Washington who felt the vital decisions he was making regarding a child’s future were being done so without sufficient information. With a realization that he and other judges should make those life-altering decisions with confidence and realizing that the child protection system was overburdened and did not have sufficient resources, he formulated the idea of volunteers as advocates.

 

“Foster children’s needs were not being sufficiently monitored nor met,” explained Cherie Peak, supervisor for the Bonner and Boundary CASA offices. “Having someone outside the system also serves to bring a balanced and objective perspective into the case. CASA provides checks and balances and augments services for our understaffed and underfunded child welfare system.”

 

It was not until 1996 when a CASA office came to Bonner and Boundary counties. Now, more than 20 years later, countless volunteers have given their time to not only give children a voice but hope for the future as well.

 

A CASA volunteer commits to spending time with each of the children for whom he or she is an advocate. Peak shares that a visit is required a minimum of one time per month, but most volunteers visit the children much more frequently.

 

“Throughout a child protection case, a child’s home, school, social workers, foster parents and other professionals can change many times. This adds to the stress and sense of loss they experience,” said Peak. “An important role for a CASA is to become a consistent, stable, safe adult the child can trust to stand with them through this traumatic time in their life. Research shows this will greatly impact outcomes for the child.”

 

But like anything, it costs money to run such a program. While CASA programs are mandated by the state, they only receive $1 out of every $4 they need to operate from a grant through the Supreme Court. “The other $3 comes from fundraising, grants and donations,” said Peak.

 

The program is vital in helping children escape the abuse they have endured and can help stop the cycle that is prevalent in so many families. And there is no doubt that it is successful.

 

Peak shares that at a recent fundraiser, a former foster child spoke and shared her story. She achieved a degree in political science and worked at the state level.

 

“She talked about how much her CASA contributed to her growing up to be a healthy, successful person,” said Peak. “Many CASAs have had former CASA kids get in touch with them to let them know how they are doing in life. Some CASAs remain a presence in their CASA kiddos’ lives long after they are out of foster care.”

 

And some for a lifetime. Jeni DeGregorio and her husband, Mark Davis, adopted all four of their children, ages 3 to 10 years old, from foster care. Each of the four children has a unique story, and Jeni shares that the four separate CPS (Child Protective Services) cases were quite the roller coaster.

 

“I have fostered over 30 kiddos in the last 10 years. Four have chosen to stay, and that's more than OK with me,” said Jeni, who adds that she started out as a foster parent truly only wanting to foster, but once her oldest child’s case plan was not successfully completed and adoption became an option, he had totally stolen her heart. The couple also adopted an 8-year-old son and just a few months ago adopted two girls ages 6 and 3.

 

Jeni said the children have taught her and her husband so much about love, compassion and life.

 

“I really have no words on how adoption has impacted our lives. Adopting from foster care is hard; I won't lie. My days are full of appointments. I spend a lot of time on phone calls advocating for their needs, and our ‘extra’ time is spent just being with them,” said Jeni, adding that days are filled with moments of behavior issues and outbursts. “However, all of that stress goes away when I see glimpses of healing, developmental milestones being reached and the PTSD lessening. Even though my days are full, I wouldn't change any of it for the world. I am the richest person in the world, not because of money but because of love; love that’s the deepest thing I have ever felt in my entire life. I can't imagine my life without them.”

 

According to Kristin Ludwig, the director of fundraising and marketing for North Idaho CASA, 23 advocates have been at CASA for more than five years, and 87 of their active advocates are over 50 years old.

 

“There were 9,038 case hours worked over the last year and 368 children served,” said Ludwig. “In addition, 132 children have been placed with forever families.”

 

As for Jeni and Mark, their children have not only touched their lives but have impacted the whole community. “At each adoption court hearing, the room was full. Family, friends, CASAs, teachers, daycare workers, even the kids’ principal came to support the kids’ special moment. I have heard that the kids melt their heart because of their gratefulness, kindness and genuineness.”

 

Join Us to Celebrate Sandpoint’s Finest and Help Children Thrive

 

We invite you to join Sandpoint Living Local on March 2 at the Heartwood Center from 6 to 10pm to celebrate Sandpoint’s Finest and to help out a wonderful organization that works tirelessly to allow our children to thrive. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased online by going to our website, SandpointLivingLocal.com, and following the link, or you can purchase them from our Facebook page at Facebook.com/sandpointliving.

 

Also, please remember to vote for Sandpoint’s Finest on our website, and while you are there, there is also a donate button to help give back to CASA, which has given so much to our community.

 

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