By Mira Reverente
The room is decked out like a ballroom, with red, pink and white balloons, ready for the prom taking place the day after. Dressed in gowns and tuxedos, teenagers look forward to this annual event capping the end of the school year.
“We try to recreate one of the most anticipated events in their lives through this prom,” said Vickie Murphy, chief advancement officer at Casa Pacifica, centers for abused and neglected children and teens, based in Camarillo.
Held at Casa Pacifica’s gym, countless volunteers work tirelessly to decorate and jazz up the venue. Steve Nix, dubbed “the balloon man” for his expertise in creating balloon sculptures, said he never tires of doing this year after year. “It’s just a hobby for me – making these balloon sculptures, but knowing it can make some of these kids happy, gives me immense satisfaction,” said the four-year volunteer who works at Amgen.
The teens can also expect a sit-down dinner and entertainment led by a DJ. “I think we are more excited than them sometimes,” said Oksana Zussman, a five-year volunteer and co-chair of children’s events at the facility. “I can just picture the teens beaming and those smiling faces … there’s so much love and warmth going around here.”
And there is no short supply of love and warmth at the home, which served 4,500 children, teens and their families across all programs during the 2013-2014 period. A 45-bed emergency shelter for children 0 to 18 years old sits on their 24-acre campus off of Flynn Road.
There is round-the-clock staff to attend to emotionally, physically and mentally abused children and teens who are brought in from all over Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. There is a residential treatment program for older children and teens, as well as a non-public school on campus.
“The prom, along with everything else we do, is just an attempt to restore some sense of normalcy into their lives,” said volunteer Steve Johnson, a retired engineer from Amgen. “The best part for me is being able to solve some problems with immediate, discernible impact; that I think is a good use of my engineering skills.”
Johnson has been volunteering at Casa Pacifica along with his wife Carol for the past 13 years. “We were pulled in along with this big group from Amgen,” said Carol.
Heading the children’s events committee is Susan Burgos, one of Casa Pacifica’s longest-serving volunteers at 23 years and counting. “I just love coming here; everyone is so giving and caring,” she said.
The caring nature at Casa Pacifica also comes from the four-legged variety. For the past several years, Archie, a celebrity therapy dog, has been synonymous with the non-profit group. A Newfoundland purebred who started coming to the centers since he was a puppy 10 years ago, Archie is now enjoying retirement in Murphy’s home. He even has his own website where you can purchase items that support the kids.
Archie has a distant relative by the name of Otis, a 15-month-old Newfie, who does pretty much what Archie used to do–help provide therapy to the facility’s troubled clientele. “He sits in a room with one of the therapists, providing solace to the kids,” said Murphy. “He has a very soothing presence, all 185 lbs. of him. His presence just calms them down.”
Keeping the volunteers perennially busy is another much-anticipated event, Casa Pacifica’s biggest fundraiser, the 22nd annual Casa Pacifica Wine, Food and Brew Festival on Sunday, June 7, from 1-5 p.m.
Over 85 exhibitors are expected to grace the annual event held at Cal State University Channel Islands, including some distinguished chefs and top local breweries.
“We’re in the middle of a $21 million capital campaign and so far, we’ve raised $14 million,” said Murphy. “We are building out our campus and hoping to build two more cottages and replace some temporary structures.”
“Our needs are changing,” Murphy said. “We are serving more children and teens so we’re ready to adapt and grow.”
For more information or to support the Wine, Food and Brew Festival, click here.