Shirley Napolitano aims to be someone a foster child trusts and turns to.
As a Court Appointed Special Advocate, she tries to be the consistency foster children need in a life of neglect, relocation and court dates.
"We're the grandma the kid doesn't have, the aunt the kid doesn't have, the person who remembers to call and say, 'Happy birthday,' " said Napolitano, an advocate on the Westside.
So Napolitano has a vested interest in CASA of Merced County's Wild West Hoedown fundraiser on Oct. 20. The event benefits the county program that looks out for the best interests of abused and neglected children within the court system.
Napolitano said she represents four children, a teenager and three siblings. She said she's served many different roles, like support for the teenager as he became a new father, and someone to take the siblings to the park for ice cream.
"Whatever their need is," she said.
"These kids do without a lot of things other kids get," Napolitano said.
The 50 advocates, which will increase to 59 in a few weeks, represent about 60 foster children. Five of the advocates, including Napolitano, represent children on the Westside.
Napolitano, who has served for two years, said it's important for the children to have someone they've had a long-term relationship with next to them when they meet a judge or new social worker.
Napolitano called her time as an advocate "fulfilling" and said CASA of Merced County delivers on its mission. She said she's not on her own, as the advocates lean on each other.
"You build a community with the other advocates, and that's a really good thing," Napolitano said.
Shar Herrera, executive director of Merced County CASA, said about 600 children are a part of the foster care system in the county. CASA has grown in the last two years, she said, but it doesn't have enough advocates to meet the need.
"Right now, we have 80 kids on the waiting list," Herrera said.
Doors open for the Hoedown at 5:30 p.m. and dinner will be served at 6:30 Oct. 20 at the Delta Party Barn, 13816 Bisignani Road. Tickets are $35 a person, and a table of eight is $350, and organizers request an RSVP by calling Herrera at (209) 722-2272.
Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or by email at tmiller@losbanos enterprise.com.