ANNAPOLIS, MD — Maryland CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) Association hosted its 10th Annual Statewide Conference on Saturday, April 9th, at the Judicial Education & Conference Center in Annapolis, MD. A record number of 218 CASA volunteers, staff members, attorneys, and social workers attended the event to expand their knowledge-base and understanding of how to best advocate for Maryland’s abused and neglected children.
“It’s not who I am, it’s what happened to me,” said Suamhirs Piraino-Guzman, a survivor of child abuse and human trafficking, as he kicked off the event with his keynote address.
Piraino-Guzman grew up in Honduras, where he was the victim of severe child abuse, only to be traumatized even more at the age of 14 when he was kidnapped and brought to the U.S. and sold into human trafficking . Even after being rescued and placed into the foster care system in America, Suamhirs continued to experience trauma until he was appointed a CASA volunteer in San Diego, CA.
“Suamhirs’ keynote was a perfect way to open the conference,” said Caryn Weaver, a CASA volunteer who attended the conference. “He’s such an amazing and inspirational man,” added Weaver, a (graphic design & marketing Professional of Annapolis. “How truly incredible of him to have been able to turn all of his hardships into so many positives — and now be able to give back to so many kids and people. Truly phenomenal!”
A recent appointee to the United States Advisory Council on Human Trafficking by President Obama, Piraino-Guzman is a contractor for the Office of Victims of Crime at the Department of Justice.
“It was such an honor to speak in Annapolis to some of Maryland’s passionate and dedicated CASA volunteers at the 10th Annual Conference,” said Piraino-Guzman.
“As someone who experienced abuse and had a CASA volunteer growing up, it was amazing to speak in front of so many people who truly care about the well-being of children,” he added. “I hope that by sharing my story, I have inspired them all to continue the work that they do for those who cannot advocate for themselves.”
Immediately following the keynote, attendees had the opportunity to break out into various workshops throughout the day to enhance their understanding of the challenges facing foster children and youth today. Topics ranged from working with children and youth with mental health needs, to older foster youth transitioning out of the system at 21, working with victims of human trafficking, to building relationships with child welfare professionals, to name a few.
“This was only my third MD CASA conference to attend and I’ve been to a billion and one one-day conferences it feels like and I have to say… this was one of the best,” said Deanee Johnson, Program Coordinator for CASA of Southern Maryland, a program under the Center for Children. “The conference had wonderful speakers, and smooth transitions between workshops — overall, great!”