(Featured photo: David Ambroz, featured speaker; Chris Lawrence, moderator.)
Dallas CASA’s Champion of Children Award Dinner honored Francois Reihani, founder and CEO of the We Are One Project and La La Land Kind Café, with the Judge Barefoot Sanders Champion of Children Award for his commitment to children aging out of foster care. All funds raised at the event benefit children served by the agency.
Guest speaker David Ambroz, author of the memoir “A Place Called Home,” shared with the audience his personal challenges of growing up with a severely mentally ill mother and the poverty and homeless that ensued. He and his siblings begged for food, slept on the streets and struggled with profound abuse and neglect.
“We condemn people with mental health issues,” he said. “In that condemnation, my siblings and I were the ones punished.”
Ambroz found his way out of foster care, graduated from college and law school and is today a successful executive and foster dad in California. He dedicates much of his personal time to inspiring others to act on behalf of children in need.
Dallas CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) seeks to protect children and restore childhood through focused advocacy for children in the protective care of the state. The agency recruits, trains and supervises community members who serve as advocates for children who have experienced abuse or neglect and cannot safely live at home. Advocates work with children, their families, Child Protective Services caseworkers, attorneys, judges, educators, therapists, counselors and all other stakeholders on the case to achieve the best outcomes for child victims of abuse and neglect.
For honoree Reihani, the inspiration to help youth aging out came from personal stories he heard from former foster youth served by Dallas CASA. Using his business acumen, he founded La La Land Kind Café, a “café with a purpose.” The cafes provide job opportunities for former foster youth, allowing them to gain skills and better their chance at reaching their full potential. For too many youth aging out of care without supportive families, the challenges of life after foster care include homelessness, food insecurity, unemployment and other negative outcomes.
“Francois is truly a one-in-a-million person,” said Kathleen M. LaValle, president and CEO of Dallas CASA. “Instead of seeing a big problem and turning away, he leaned in and looked for a solution. His cafes send a message to youth aging out of care that they matter, that there’s a place for them and they have bright futures.”
From one initial café on Lower Greenville, Reihani’s business has expanded to 11 stores across Texas and California. This summer, he announced a $20 million investment in his business, which will allow him to expand operations and open new locations across the United States.
“Dallas CASA inspired me and changed my life,” Reihani said. “Without Dallas CASA, there would be no La La Land.”
The Champion of Children Award Dinner was chaired by Stephanie and David Krahe, Retta A. Miller and Megan and Tom Sterquell. The honorary chairs were longtime friends and supporters of Dallas CASA Fran and Mark Berg.
The Champion of Children Award is named in honor of Judge Barefoot Sanders, a revered United States District Court judge for the Northern District of Texas, past award recipient and steadfast supporter of Dallas CASA. The award is given annually to recognize community leaders who significantly improve the lives of youth in our community, particularly those whose lives have been marked by abuse, neglect or other adversity. His wife Jan Sanders served as a Dallas CASA volunteer advocate.
Award winners from the recent past include Jessica and Dirk Nowitzki, The Meadows Foundation, the Junior League of Dallas, NorthPark Center and the Dallas CASA Classic hosts Goldman Sachs, Pioneer Natural Resources and AT&T.
Photos courtesy Dallas CASA
(This Philanthropy Lifestyles Scene courtesy Dallas CASA.)