(Forsyth County, GA) About 8,000 sunflowers are taking over a portion of Jot Em Down Road in Cumming for the second year in a row to raise money for Forsyth County’s Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer organization.
Sharon and Robert Hendricks welcome the public to come to their sunflower patch along the road in front of their house to take pictures with the sunflowers and snip a few to take home with them. A box will be out front for donations.
These donations will go towards the Hendricks’ “Change a Child’s Story 2023” fundraising campaign, which aims to raise $10,000 for CASA. CASA is a non-profit that trains and supports volunteers who aid children in the juvenile justice system. Sharon has been a volunteer with CASA for eight years and is also on the board of directors.
Donations can also be made straight to the campaign at this link.
The Hendricks first tried their hand at gardening two years ago when they decided to plant wildflowers in the 4,000-square-foot plot of land near the road.
In 2022, Robert suggested they try sunflowers instead. Before they knew it, 8,000 sunflowers of several different breeds including Teddy Bear, Moonwalker, Evening Sun and Goldener Neger sunflowers were blooming along the road.
Thinking of ways to put the flowers to good use, Sharon pitched the idea of using them to raise money for CASA to her neighborhood on the Nextdoor app.
She received over 150 messages of support, leading the couple to leave scissors, some water and a donation box next to the sunflower patch as residents swung by to take pictures and bring home some of the flowers for themselves.
“The sunflower fundraiser event last year was a great success,” Sharon said. “We were able to bring the community together and raise awareness, provide support to children who have experienced abuse or neglect. We were not sure how much money we could raise last year selling sunflowers but to our surprise we raised over $700. This was a big deal so of course we had to do it again this year.”
Along with the donations, Sharon said they had several people ask how they could get involved with CASA as a volunteer.
The Hendricks hope to raise even more money this year and plan for the sunflower fundraiser to be an annual event.
Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) organization
CASA is a non-profit organization that trains and supports volunteers to aid children in the juvenile system. Sharon said their job is to “follow up, listen, report to the courts the facts and put the child’s best interest first.”
The ultimate goal is to reunite children with their families.
The volunteers take a huge burden off the system by providing support and specific attention to one family while the state Division of Family & Children Services case managers serve many families at a time.
Mental health and substance abuse tend to be huge factors for kids in foster care. Their parents themselves are often victims of abuse and neglect as well and are usually repeating the cycle. CASA volunteers are often the only consistent adult in these children’s lives.
“CASA makes recommendations not only for the children but for the people the children care most about, which is their parents,” Sharon said. “So ultimately, at the end of the day as a CASA volunteer it can be stressful but the end result is amazing because what we truly want is reunification with the parents.”
She plans to use the donations from the sunflowers to help recruit and fund training for new CASA volunteers. It costs about $250 to train a new volunteer and $1,000 to support their work for one year.
While the job can be stressful, seeing the kids reunited with their families reminds Sharon of why she loves the position so much. So far every case she has worked on has ended with family reunification, and she still has close relationships with many of the children.
The thousands of sunflowers she and her husband worked hard to plant remind her of the children she has helped over the years.
“They [the sunflowers] all have their unique personality and that's what reminds me of our children, who are all so unique and special, we love them,” Sharon said.
The Hendricks’ home can be found at 8360 Jot Em Down Road in Cumming. Scissors and water are available to cut and take the sunflowers home. Donations can be left in the donation box. The sunflowers are ready to be picked and will continue to be over the next two weeks.
For more information on CASA in Forsyth County, visit forsythcountycasa.org.
If you have a news tip in Forsyth County, contact Justine Lookenott at firstname.lastname@example.org.