As anyone who has ever loved a child knows, five years is a significant amount of time in a young life. So many things change in five years.
Today, as the president of the board of directors of Casa Pacifica Children's Crisis Care Center, it is my great pleasure to offer the people of Ventura County hearty congratulations on a job well done. It is Casa Pacifica's fifth anniversary, and I would like to present an accounting of what you have helped to build:
* A nationally accredited shelter and residential treatment center that has admitted 2,000 children, ages 1 to 18, in the five years since it opened. For the past year, all of our beds have been full, and there is a continuous waiting list.
* A thriving public-private partnership that is a unique model in the state, if not the entire country. Ventura County has 30 employees working on-site, and the private sector has contributed more than $5 million and 9,600 hours of volunteer labor to Casa Pacifica since we opened.
* A beautiful 20-acre campus surrounded by Camarillo farmland that causes first-time visitors to exclaim over its scope, size and complexity.
* Two new programs that provide parents and foster parents with after-school and in-home services to help prevent children from being sent to Casa Pacifica in the first place.
* A community-based all-volunteer board of directors; 80 prominent local leaders have served on the board over the years.
Last Wednesday we invited the community to our anniversary celebration and open house. It was a day to reflect on the hard work of 15 years, for it was in 1985 that the seeds of Casa Pacifica were first planted by a group of people who wanted to do the right thing for Ventura County's abused and neglected children.
It was a day to remember some difficult times a couple of years ago, when we realized that the children coming to Casa Pacifica were, in general, far more disturbed and in greater need of help than we had expected. Some of us recalled the summer that Casa Pacifica was inspected by every critical eye in the community, from county agencies to licensing agencies to the media. It was a tough, confusing time for people who had put heart and soul into this project, but Casa Pacifica emerged stronger and better.
Wednesday was also a day to bask in the recognition of a dream realized. The truth is, Casa Pacifica works. Every day, children are being saved in this place--from the 18-year-old girl who wrote to our staff that she has "learned that love and care can also come from friends and not just family," to the 3-year-old boy recently admitted, unable to speak due to severe neglect from a drug-addicted mother.
Sometimes it is hard to believe that five years ago the doors to this place opened for the first time. For many of us, it seems as if Casa Pacifica has always been here. Now, however, we must turn to the future. There is much work that remains and many abused and neglected children yet to care for.
One area of care that is lacking in Ventura County is services for abused or neglected children who turn 18. Legally emancipated teenagers who have been in the care of Casa Pacifica have no place to go in Ventura County. Generally these young people are not ready to live independently. They need support while they ease into their adult responsibilities, find jobs and finish school.
Other counties, such as Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, have specific programs and placements for these newly christened adults. It is very difficult for us to watch as the kids we have grown to know and care about are sent to out-of-county homes, away from whatever friends and family and support they have developed.
Our board is concerned about this gap and hopes to find solutions. To do this, the public and private sectors of our community will need to come together again. We should not drop the ball just because a vulnerable young person celebrates an 18th birthday.
I want to congratulate the people of Ventura County. We have reason to be proud. Instead of looking away from the dark recesses of our society, away from the shadowy corners and crevices where parents hurt or neglect their own kids, we have chosen to shine a light on them.
In Casa Pacifica, we have built a special place for children with no voice, no light and no hope. This organization daily treats the wounded children of Ventura County and stands as a symbol of the strength, wisdom and heart found here.
To those who have participated in our growth or supported us financially, I say thank you. To those who have held us to the highest standards of care, I say thank you. To those--our staff and volunteers--who daily minister to hurting kids, I say thank you.
Casa Pacifica looks forward to serving the community and to helping children and families heal for many more years to come.