WELLSBURG More than 296 luminaria lined the Wellsburg Town Square on April 28.
And for Rhonda Stubbs, executive director of A Child's Place Court-Appointed Special Advocate, they weren't just paper bags filled with candles and sand to brace them against the evening's brisk wind.
Each represented a child served by the non-profit program since it was formed in February 2000. Through it, volunteers from various walks of life have been trained to represent the interests of children involved in abuse and neglect cases in Brooke and Hancock counties.
The volunteers gather information about the children's home life in an effort to help court officials determine the future of such children. Each supports the work of a state-employed social worker, who often is assigned many cases at a time.
Sometimes the children remain with their parents or guardians, provided the caretakers undergo drug abuse counseling or meet other court-ordered conditions.
Sometimes the children are moved to new homes in which a judge and other officials believe they will receive better care.
Whichever the path, A Child's Place CASA's sole concern is the children come to live in a safe, and the bags represent the many youth for whom the group helped to provide happy homes, said Michele Bush, executive director of West Virginia CASA, an organization that assists the state's more than 300 CASA volunteers.
The luminaria were part of the Light of Hope candlelight vigil held by the group each year in observance of National Child Abuse Prevention Month.
Among those on hand was Michelle Figaretti, a representative of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, who read a letter from him.
Tomblin said West Virginia's children are its future and their ability to learn and grow depends on their living in a safe, nurturing environment.
He applauded A Child's Place CASA's efforts to ensure all children have such an environment.
The local group has seen some positive developments in recent months, with seven new volunteers being administered oaths by Circuit Court Judge Martin Gaughan.
The oaths are necessary because CASA volunteers are expected to maintain the confidentiality of the families involved outside the courtroom.
The new volunteers are: Trinity Rouse, Joanne Jones, Denise Crow, Missy Wenner, Terry Richey, Jessica Wilson and Eileen Spencer.
They raise the number of A Child's Place CASA volunteers to 21, who collectively are serving 43 children in the two counties. That leaves three on a waiting list - much fewer than in recent years - who are being assisted by Stubbs and Jennifer Reitter, the program's coordinator of volunteers, when possible.
Stubbs added the group also has a new board member, Linda Viderman of Beech Bottom. Viderman learned of it while serving as a volunteer tax preparer and already has held a workshop to inform donors to the cause and others learn how they may receive federal and state credits, she said.
Tri-State Medical Group recently renewed its pledge to serve as a corporate sponsor of the program at the Hero level, which involves a $3,000 yearly contribution.
It's the largest sponsorship level for the group, which invites individuals, groups and businesses to pledge continuing sponsorships of all sizes and recognizes each through its monthly newsletter. A Child's Place CASA also has been awarded a $9,000 grant from Comcast and $1,950 grant from Hancock County Savings Bank and received a $1,000 donation from the Brooke County Rotary Club.
And Barbara Beatty, owner of Lollipops and Gumdrops, a new consignment store in Wellsburg, has made it possible for individuals bringing clothes and other children's items to the store to have their share of their sale go to A Child's Place CASA instead.
In an effort to inform more people about the group's mission, a business after-hours was held prior to the vigil at the group's office at 720 Charles St. Food was provided by Spicy Gringo's, a Mexican restaurant in Wellsburg, and CASA volunteers.
Among those attending were Barbara Finley, the chamber's executive director; and members of its board of directors.
(Scott can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)