Jimmy Wayne is a country star with a big heart. After performing on the American Saturday Night tour with Brad Paisley and Dierks Bentley a few years ago, he started to feel guilty about how comfortable his life had become. After all, as a teenager, he was in and out of foster care, group homes and even juvenile detention with a mother in prison and only an older sister to look out for him.
So, in 2010, he embarked on a 1,700-mile walk from Nashville to Phoenix to raise awareness of at-risk youth in the foster care system who age out at 18, and without any support, often find themselves homeless. Along the way, he joined organizations like CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) and FosterClubs of America to speak out for these kids. And he created an organization called Project Meet Me Halfway to keep the message going.
On another Saturday night in America - this Saturday, Oct. 20 - Wayne brings his big heart and smooth voice to Wheeling to perform at a benefit for the local CASA organization at Wheeling Island Hotel, Casino and Racetrack. Dinner begins at 6 p.m. with the concert to follow.
Country music recording artist Jimmy Wayne will perform a benefit for CASA for Children Inc. at Wheeling Island Hotel, Casino and Racetrack on Saturday. Tickets can be purchased by calling 304-810-0952.
"CASA is made up of volunteers who help abused and neglected children. The child's best interest is in the hearts of these volunteers," Wayne said in an email interview Wednesday. "I know first hand the importance of getting involved in a child's life; I wouldn't be where I am today if the family who took me in when I was a homeless teen hadn't."
Susan Harrison, CASA for Children Inc. executive director, said, with the drying up of federal and state funding streams, this benefit will help keep the organization operating in the four counties it serves: Ohio, Marshall, Wetzel and Tyler.
"Without a CASA to advocate on their behalf, these (abused and neglected) children are twice as likely to end up back in the system," Harrison said. "CASA volunteers are far more likely than paid attorneys to visit children in their homes and more likely to investigate whether or not there are appropriate services for the child or family. CASA volunteers are highly effective in getting their recommendations accepted in court, and their reports led to a higher number of services being ordered for children and families," Harrison said.
In September alone, Harrison said, 15 children were referred to CASA because of abuse and neglect, and another six in October so far - but all have had to be put on a waiting list because more volunteers are needed.
"We believe all children in foster care should have a caring adult advocating on their behalf. Every child should have someone whose full attention is focused on that child's needs and who can help the system provide the right kind of support. Many compassionate and caring professionals - judges, lawyers, social workers - work within state child protection systems. But too often they simply have too many children on their caseloads and not enough time to pay adequate attention to each child," Harrison said.
CASA volunteers are helping or have helped to lift up the voices of more than 130 children in the four-county region this year, but still "we are reaching only about 70 percent of the youth who need a volunteer," Harrison said.
Wayne's concert on Saturday will feature his hits including "Put Your Hand in Mine," "Stay Gone," "I Love You This Much," "Paper Angels" and "Do You Believe Me Now."
"(Audience members) can expect me to share songs old and new mixed in with wonderful stories of how these songs were inspired," Wayne said.
For more about Wayne's story and his music career, visit www.jimmywayne.com.
For benefit information and tickets, call 304-810-0952.
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Susan Harrison, executive director of CASA for Children Inc., related a story of a child served by CASA to illustrate the difference a volunteer can make:
"I'll never forget the first time I saw Clara. She was a tiny little thing, even for 5 years old. She had shiny dark brown hair pulled up into these lopsided pigtails, and these beautiful blue eyes that sparkled when she smiled. ...
"When Clara first arrived at the foster family's home, they couldn't get a comb through her hair, she looked (and smelled) as though she hadn't bathed in weeks, and she was skin and bones. Clara was terrified of the bath and had to be held down so that her foster parents could wash her hair. That's when they discovered her head was infested with lice. ... They later found out that it was during bath time that her father first began to sexually abuse her and that eventually, her mother became a willing, active participant.
"Child Protective Services removed Clara from the home and she was placed in foster care. She found herself living with strangers and attending a new school. Clara had suffered such trauma at the hands of her parents that she needed counseling twice a week. It soon became apparent that her foster family could not handle the time requirements necessary to accommodate Clara's counseling schedule, and (so) Clara was moved to a second home and a second school, and, because of the location, a second therapist.
"Unfortunately, something about her new foster parents reminded her of her own abusive parents and Clara was moved yet again. ...
"Now through all of this, Amy, a CASA volunteer, was by Clara's side. She visited every other week and helped Clara with every transition and supported her. Amy was Clara's voice. She spoke up when she felt Clara's medication was not helping. She voiced her opinion about Clara's progress in school and pushed for an evaluation and a subsequent IEP. ...
"So now, even though Clara is still in the system, in another foster home, at a different school, with a different CPS worker and yet another therapist, Amy is still there, by Clara's side - a constant reminder that there is someone who cares and that she does have a voice."