posted April 7, 2008

Community Reception to Mark CASA Anniversary

Given its on-going community focus, the Children's After School Achievement (CASA) program at Hope College is applying the same sensibility in celebrating the two decades that it has spent making a difference in young lives.

CASA is marking its 20th anniversary with a community celebration on Thursday, April 17, at 4 p.m. in the Maas Center auditorium.

The public is invited. Admission is free.

"It's good to celebrate good things. You celebrate wedding anniversaries, you celebrate birthdays, you celebrate accomplishments, and this is a milestone for CASA," said Fonda Green, executive director of the program. "The hundreds of students who have been in CASA the past 20 years have all come from Holland-area elementary schools, and many individuals and organizations in the community have helped support our program, some of them since the beginning. This is a chance for everyone to see the difference that we are making together."

The celebration will open with recognition of several of CASA's significant community partnerships, followed by reflections by two former CASA students: Leah Bracamonte, who is now a sophomore at Holland High School; and Juan Martinez, who is now a sophomore at Hope.

The event will also feature a presentation by artist Joel Schoon Tanis, a 1989 Hope graduate who is host of the children's television program "Come On Over!," featured on WOTV 4 on Saturday mornings. Tanis has shown his artwork around the United States as well as abroad, and his works are in many collections; as an illustrator he has contributed to more than a half a dozen books for children.

The event's master of ceremonies will be Eva Aguirre Cooper, who is communications director for WOOD TV 8, WOTV 4 and WXSP.

CASA, a community organization housed at Hope, focuses on academic and cultural enrichment for at-risk second- through fifth-grade students. The program, which runs year-round, is intended to improve the students' academic performance by providing the tools they need to succeed in school.

The students meet after school twice per week in one-on-one sessions with volunteer tutors, most of whom are Hope students, throughout the school year, and in the mornings during a six-week summer session. The academic-year and summer programs serve Holland and West Ottawa students. A total of 132 elementary-age students are participating during the current school year, the highest number ever.

CASA's accomplishments include increased reading scores in 77 percent of students last academic year, 93 percent daily average attendance rates and "good to excellent" daily participation scores of 98 percent.

CASA is celebrating the current 2007-08 school year as its 20th-anniversary year. The program was established in 1987 by Marge Rivera Bermann and Latin Americans United for Progress (LAUP) and originally housed at First United Methodist Church. CASA moved to Hope College in 1989, and has its offices in Van Zoeren Hall and schedules most of its school-year activities in classrooms in Lubbers Hall.

Also in conjunction with the celebration, the Holland Area Arts Council is featuring the CASA-themed exhibition "Through My Eyes" through Saturday, May 10. The exhibition includes self-portrait collages by the CASA children as well as large-format photographs taken by Hope College art students to document the after-school program in action. The Holland Area Arts Council is located in downtown Holland at 150 E. Eighth St. and is open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The MaasCenter is located at 264 Columbia Ave., on Columbia at 11th Street.