By Tom Mustin
AURORA, Colo. (CBS4) – During the holidays we’re shining the spotlight on individuals and groups who are working together for Colorado to make a difference in their communities.
This weekend we’re highlighting the CASA organization, a nonprofit group that provides stability to neglected and abused children.
As Tom Mustin found out, this Christmas they’ve received some special help from a “secret Santa” on a mission to make a difference.
“Wow. that’s actually a really nice one,” said 17 year-old Marissa Arellano, who got to celebrate Christmas early this year.
“I mean you can never go on camera without lip gloss,” she laughed, observing one of her gifts.
Marissa has been in foster care since she was 13.
“Just an unfortunate family situation,” she told CBS4’s Tom Mustin.
For four years she’s been a part of CASA, which is short for Court Appointed Special Advocates. The group works to provide a safe haven for abused and neglected children.
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We were there in CASA’s Aurora office when Arellano opened up a surprise backpack filled with presents — delivered by a guardian angel named Jessica Thomas.
Thomas works with Modern Woodmen, a not-for-profit financial company in Highlands Ranch. She’s taken their mission of” giving” to the next level to help out kids like Arellano.
“I went shopping in Cheyenne, Fort Collins, Greeley, Longmont, Denver,” she said.
Over the past few weeks, she’s knocked on doors, used social media, and driven across the state to raise money and supplies. Her goal: to pack 38 backpacks for CASA teenagers.
“I had to go outside the box. I had to ask the community. the community responded fantastically,”said Thomas.
Arellano says there have been Christmases in the past when she’s had no presents. Her reaction when she opened the backback said it all.
“This is like a pretty normal teenage Christmas really. It’s really nice to feel normal. I don’t know … I feel overwhelmed really,” she said.
Thomas had previously worked in a group home, and was inspired by a 12-year-old girl who had nothing.
“After I left and stopped working with her, she had gone through five foster homes in a year … and that’s why I do it,” she said through tears.
Thomas has packed the bags with teenage essentials — everything from makeup, lotion, candy, and body spray to gift cards and footballs.
“These kids think twice about when they get mascara or a new sweatshirt,” said Thomas. “It means the world to them. I know that because I’ve seen it on her face.”
Andea Tagtow with CASA says thanks to Thomas’ generosity, 37 other special kids will experience the joy of Christmas.
“These kids have gone through more than most adults will ever go through,” Tagtow told Mustin. “They don’t know that they’re getting any gifts, much less about 20 gifts per bag. So this is going to be a really exciting thing to watch.”
They’re backpacks sent by a special Santa that are packed with hope for teens like Arellano.
“It really just means that I’m not forgotten,” said Arellano. “Foster kids are not forgotten. Merry Christmas to all you forgotten ones.”
Arellano has graduated from high school and will be attending the Colordao Academy for Veterinary Technology in April.
CASA will hand out the bags to the teens Dec. 20.
CASA can really use your donations. You can find out how to help at adv4children.org.