No need to hold your breath — while the annual Voices of Callaway competition isn't until Aug. 3, you can vote for your favorite singers now.
VOC is a fundraiser for Heart of Missouri Court Appointed Special Advocates's Callaway branch. CASA volunteers advocate for abused and neglected children in the 13th Judicial District, which includes Callaway and Boone counties. The 30 or so CASA volunteers are currently serving 62 children in the county, said Suzanne Guerrant, event organizer and Callaway County Program director.
"There's close to 200 kids in (state) care (in Callaway County), and we hope to have advocates for half of those by end of the year," she said. "We have a ways to go. We have three individuals in our July-August training; after they finish, we will have trained eight people so far this year."
Funds raised during the event will help pay for advocate recruitment, screening and training, Guerrant said.
"It costs us about $25 for one hour of advocacy for a child," she said.
VOC usually takes place each April, but this year's competition was delayed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. To keep participants and audience members safe, it'll be hosted at 6 p.m. Aug. 3 outside at Memorial Park. The event is free to attend; people are encouraged to bring their own seating. Radio station 94.3 KAT Country will emcee.
"This is our first time having it outside," Guerrant said during a recent Fulton City Council meeting.
Last year's competition featured child performers, but this year "we're throwing them all together," she added.
Judges don't determine the competition's winner — the people of Callaway County do, by voting with their dollars. The person who raises the most funds wins the competition. Last year's winner, Molly Phillips, raised a whopping $10,605 and took home the Voice of Callaway 2019 title.
"If you donate $10, (the performer of your choosing) gets 10 votes," Guerrant explained.
This year's goal is $15,000 — a step up from the $12,000 or so raised in 2019.
"Times are hard for some people — who knows whether they can give or not," Guerrant acknowledged.
Donations may be made at bit.ly/2VyCz4E. Sponsorships are also available. Visit bit.ly/2CRuwsW to learn more.
Competitors this year include Herman Hall, The Barker Family, Katie Belenchia, Kendra Windsor, Pam Crawford, The Formans, and Ella and Rachel Washington. Phillips will give a special performance.
Belenchia is in the lead so far, thanks to a couple $500 sponsorships, Guerrant said.
There are other ways to help CASA beyond donating and singing. The organization is always seeking new advocates, and especially men, Guerrant said.
"We need men to be role models for our boys and our girls, desperately," she said.
Volunteer advocates are typically asked to commit to two years with the program, though cases may take longer to wrap up — one of Guerrant's cases has been in the courts since 2014. They visit their assigned children at least twice a month; spend time with the child's family, doctors, counselors and teachers; review case files; and formulate recommendations on what is in the best interest of the child to be presented in court. To learn more about volunteering, visit homcasa.org.
"As the program supervisor I appreciate all the advocates we have," Guerrant said. "They work hard, they travel many miles, they read file cases, they go to meetings."