Winter Wonderland | arts and entertainment

CASA event in aid of trafficked and abused children

Anyone who has recently visited First American Bank at 111 East Fifth St. will see the many creatively decorated Christmas trees throughout the first floor. It’s a sure sign that Winter Wonderland is returning in full force on November 18 at 5 p.m

For the benefit of the Chaves County CASA programs and the Artesia Children’s Advocacy Center, Winter Wonderland includes a silent auction online and in person. According to the programme’s chief executive, Carrie-Leigh Cloutier, the cost of tickets has come down significantly as restrictions have been lifted due to the pandemic.

“We’ll have it like old times. There will be tickets. The tent will be set up (in the bank parking lot) and Peppers (Peppers Grill and Bar) will provide the catering,” Cloutier said.

More than 130 auction items are available and the online auction site is already online. The highlight will be the Christmas trees, which will be part of the live silent auction along with other unique items. Adelina Mendez has been creating the festive works of “tree art” for 13 years. Some of the Christmas trees are elegantly decorated in gold, red and purple; others are bright and cheerful with pop art reindeer frolicking among the branches.

“First American Bank is proud to have been a sponsor of this event for a number of years,” said Kris Holloway, vice president of the bank. “It’s a great opportunity for the community to come together and start the season. It’s fun because they bring out the trees earlier than usual and so more and more people keep coming in to enjoy everything. It’s just a really nice community event.”

Proceeds from the event benefit the most vulnerable victims of neglect, horrific crimes and abuse: children. Cloutier and her team have seen too many children’s lives and souls torn apart by situations too horrible to mention. They had seen the devastation meth wreaks when a child is raised in this environment. With the pandemic, more abuses have erupted, with many of the cases slow to come to light, if at all.

“Abuse has increased dramatically during COVID – I’d say 20%,” Cloutier said. “All professionals agree that the violence and horror is worse than we have ever seen. And the hotspot, the worst, is currently in Chaves County. And we don’t know why.”

Cloutier is in contact with Karen Campbell, the director of the Child Abuse Response Team at the University of New Mexico Department of Pediatrics. Stress-related abuse during the pandemic, Cloutier said, is understandable.

“What doesn’t understand is where children are held in captivity, children are starving, children are kept in cages, children are chained,” she said.

Sean Skates is CASA’s multidisciplinary team coordinator, working with law enforcement agencies, the US Attorney’s Office for the District of New Mexico and the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department.

“It’s more outrageous than it has been in recent years. We’ve seen more physical abuse and … the extreme side that’s almost considered torture and we keep our own statistics (for) reporting purposes across all of our grants and across the state they do too and have increased exponentially,” he said skates.

Cloutier said the CASA programs need to be expanded due to the scale and severity of the abuse and lack of response.

“We’re growing (every day),” she said. “Today 300 are looked after by the CASA Youth Team. We are actually serving more victims of human trafficking. That was a completely different area, which is really difficult.”

When asked about human trafficking and whether it occurs in Roswell, Cloutier said, “What we’re seeing is a lot of LGBTQ+ kids. They run away or are thrown out of their homes. They are picked up very quickly by human traffickers. If you see a teenager begging on the street, you see them…they stop and say, “Oh, you can sleep on my couch and (I’ll) feed you dinner.” And here we go. It happens more often than you think, here in Roswell, just off Main Street.”

One of the toughest cases Cloutier has faced recently involved a trafficked child who was separated from his father at the US-Mexico border.

“Someone claimed to be his relative and caught him, but no one proved it, and it wasn’t his relative and started trading with him. It hit my heart. When they asked him his mother’s name, he started sobbing – everyone in the observation room is just sobbing too. He doesn’t know and he misses his mother. He doesn’t know who his mother is. Because he was young and given a false name. He doesn’t remember his name,” she said.

Cloutier said the child was 8 years old when she witnessed his report. She added that the case is not atypical.

“The problem isn’t so much with immigrants, it’s with American citizens who are trafficking in human beings. Politics makes it black and white, but the reality is that it’s not black and white. It’s very muddled and confusing. Children suffer,” she said.

CASA programs offer various services to help children. One program includes trained assistance dogs that help reduce trauma in children who face their abusers in court. A portion of the proceeds from the auction items goes to this program.

For more information about CASA’s Winter Wonderland event, visit their Facebook page or visit


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