Gift allows Jasper County CASA to establish "Willcoxon Dream Big Fund" for foster children

May 3—Jasper County CASA announced on Friday a $250,000 donation from Robert and Dorothy Willcoxon to establish the "Willcoxon Dream Big Fund" to provide opportunities for children in foster care in Jasper County.

The couple have been supporters of Jasper County CASA since its founding in 2019.

"It feels like a dream come true because it was such an area of frustration for us before, seeing the needs of these children and knowing we didn't have a funding source to be able to do that," said Debi Koelkebeck, executive director of Jasper County CASA. "It feels so fantastic that Dot Willcoxon worked with us to find what we weren't able to do that would make a difference in children's futures."

Proceeds of the fund will address needs in three areas, Koelkebeck said.

First, it will be used for enrichment and life experiences for children, needs identified by CASA advocates in their work directly with the kids.

"We can see the dreams and needs that they aren't able to do, whether it's playing sports, music or dance lessons, or other things like that," Koelkebeck said. "It's to be able to fund those activities the state doesn't pay for and that the foster families aren't able to meet, either."

Examples of things the fund can potentially provide are sports equipment, dance outfits or driving lessons.

The second area is to support older youths as they gain their independence out of foster care. It's possible these older youths haven't had a family structure in place to help them get ready for careers or to manage finances on their own, or vocational training and support.

The third area is when the organization has Jasper County kids who are moved away from the area because they need medical care or are placed with a family outside the region. Those children are at risk of not having any one-on-one connection with an adult who is advocating for them, making sure they're getting what they need, Koelkebeck said. The fund will help support volunteer advocates to travel to help these kids.

"Now we can ask a volunteer to take a case that might be two or three hours away and be able to help with mileage," Koelkebeck said. "Also, even farther than that, we had one child that got sent to Louisiana and we were able to send the advocate down and make that connection, make sure she took some clothes, shoes, things the kid needed. We were able to make sure that child knew someone was there and watching out for them. Someone cares."

Koelkebeck said she is grateful for the couple's generosity and that the gift will last for years to come.

Jasper County CASA also is establishing an annual award at their Light of Hope luncheon, taking place this year on May 15. The "Willcoxon Dream Big Award" will be presented to a family, individual or organization that has shown dedication and commitment to improving the lives of children in Jasper County.

"We know it takes so many people to support our kids who have suffered abuse and neglect," Koelkebeck said. "We're excited that at the banquet we'll be able to announce the winner from nominations this year. We want it to be somebody that we can highlight who makes a real impact and significant difference in the area for children."

Since its founding, Jasper County CASA — Court Appointed Special Advocates — has served at least 450 children with a court-appointed special advocate while they were in foster care.

Advocates stay involved with their children for about two years on average, although some cases can be longer. Currently, they serve about 200 children and the group has about 110 active volunteers.

While it has had good community response this year, there is always a need for volunteers, Koelkebeck said. CASA focuses on having an advocate ready for each child as they come into foster care as well as those children who have been in foster care who need extra support.

People interested in becoming a volunteer advocate can contact Jasper County CASA through its website at or through its office at 417-680-3250. Koelkebeck notes they will hold another class for volunteers starting in June and still have spots available.