By Katie Tabeling ktabeling@cecilwhig.com  Jan 21, 2018

NORTH EAST — Logan and Ethan Taylor stopped playing by the rules in the middle of a miniature golf game Sunday afternoon at North East VFW Post No. 6027 in the second annual Par Tee Fore CASA.

Instead, the green at the Conowingo Dam hole became a small battleground where the two North East brothers playfully struck each other’s putters. Their great-grandfather Bill Brueckman looked on, grinning, while trying to line up his shot.

“Come on, let’s play hockey,” Ethan Taylor, 13, told his great-grandfather, wielding his putter like a hockey stick over the small hole. “You try and get it in, and I’ll pretend to be a goalie.”

“No way,” Brueckman said with a laugh.

The family was among the first wave of people who turned out to play in the second annual Par Tee Fore CASA fundraiser, sponsored by PNC Bank. The organization, which stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates, recruits and trains volunteers to act as advocates for foster children. The goal was to raise enough money to keep the program going in case federal grant funding fell through the next fiscal year.

Golfers flooded to the bingo hall to try out the course, which was custom-designed by local architect Mark Clark, built by an army of volunteers over several months and featured Cecil County landmarks. The nine holes feature sites like Crystal Beach in Earleville, the Tome Carriage House and the Gerry House in Port Deposit, and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

Saturday night, which featured an adults-only event, garnered roughly 100 attendees. Within 15 minutes of starting Sunday’s family event, the bingo hall was packed.

“It’s amazing turnout so far,” said Giulia Hodge, CASA executive director. “We’ll definitely see more people as the day goes on.”

In its inaugural year, the mini golf fundraiser collected about $2,000 and Hodge is hopeful that this year they can break that record. All the ticket proceeds go not only to pay for a bit of Sunday afternoon fun, but to sustain services for children in need.

“We serve as the voice of the child and the eyes and the ears of the court,” CASA volunteer Erin Grauer explained. “Our main responsibility is to spend time with foster kids one-on-one, find out their wishes and desires and advocate for them. It’s definitely needed because social workers have huge caseloads and we lend them a helping hand.”

CASA, which has been around in Maryland since the late-1990s, came to Cecil County in 2015 with help from grants from the Donaldson Brown Foundation and the Administrative Office of the Courts. Hodge said the program received federal funding, but fundraising events are critical because that revenue source needs to be approved on an annual basis.

Cecil County CASA has rapidly expanded in the last two years, from 15 volunteer advocates to 45. Each advocate, who is required to complete a 30-hour training course and pass a background check, is assigned a foster child, or possibly two if they have a sibling.

There are approximately 150 foster children in the county. Hodge added that as that number grows, so does the need for CASA.

“With the opioid epidemic, we’ve seen more children enter foster care, and I expect for that to continue — and our grant funding is up in October,” she said.

President of CASA Board of Directors Paul Elwood said he’d like to see the organization continue to grow, especially since the county’s foster care can continue for young adults from ages 18 to 20.

“The requirements are that they either have to be a full-time student or be employed, have housing and attend life skill classes. The problem is it’s difficult for the young adults to find affordable housing,” Elwood said. “On one hand, asking for three months rent in advance is a little much, but these landlords don’t know anything about these kids and they often don’t have any history.”

A sobering fact, he added, is that there is a 25 percent probability that once a child has exited from the foster care system, they will be homeless in three years.

“That just floors me,” Elwood said. “I was an educator for 20 years and an administrator for 11 years, and I was confronted with the issues our foster kids face. [Working with CASA] is more like, ‘Why not?’ It’s doing the right thing.”

Looking to the future, the CASA board president said he has big and small goals for CASA in the next few years. The long-term goal: building dormitory housing for those young adults still in foster care. That way, the residents can pay a reasonable rent fee as well as utilities and be in one place for these mandated life skill classes.

“The problem is finding land. No place is going to be perfect,” Elwood said.

As for short-term goals, Elwood aims to continue the miniature golf course fundraiser. The course, which he and several volunteers helped with the finishing touches, can be stored in a safe place to be used in the future — or even rented out.

“It looks good, and we definitely wanted something different, something that celebrates Cecil County,” he said.

Anyone interested in being a CASA volunteer should call 410-996-3025 or go online to www.cecilcasa.org for details and an application.

Article Online at Cecil Whig http://www.cecildaily.com/news/local_news/casa-mini-golf-fundraiser-spotlights-county-landmarks/article_1ff7e950-1c67-5774-a846-36cf4650694b.html

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Gilpin’s Falls Covered Bridge was one of the county landmarks in the mini golf course at the CASA fundraiser. Cecil Whig Photo By Tabeling ktabeling

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Brian Triantafillos of Elkton shows his son how to put at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge hole at Sunday’s CASA fundraiser. Cecil Whig Photo By Tabeling ktabeling

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Logan Taylor, 4, of North East battles his older brother Ethan Taylor, 13, to sink his ball in at the Conowingo Dam hole, at the Par Tee Fore CASA miniature golf fundraiser Sunday. Cecil Whig Photo By Tabeling ktabeling

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Seven-year-old Abby Chaffee of Elkton celebrates her win at the Turkey Point Lighthouse Sunday at the second annual Par Tee Fore CASA event. Cecil Whig Photo By Tabeling ktabeling

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Shawn Christmas of Conowingo watches as his CASA advocate tries to sink her golf ball at the Fair Hill Steeple Chase course at Sundays’s Par Tee Fore CASA at North East VFW Post 6027. Cecil Whig Photo By Tabeling ktabeling

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