Saving kids’ lives driving passion for Voices for Children and gala co-chairs


By Kathy Day

Longtime friends Lise Wilson and Debby Fishburn share a passion for giving back to their community. Now they’re sharing something else – with their husbands they are chairing the annual gala for Voices for Children, a nonprofit they say saves children’s lives.

The 10th annual Starry, Starry Night gala on Sept. 29 will raise funds to support the organization that provides Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs) for the more than 5,600 children in the San Diego County foster care system. With its new venue at the Rancho Valencia Resort, which has just undergone an extensive renovation, the event will feature entertainment by blues guitarist Coco Montoya, who for a decade played with John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers before starting his own band.

“Through no fault of their own these children who are in the dependency court system need someone to speak up for them,” said Fishburn, a former executive with one of the nation’s top retail stores who served on the Voices board for nine years and as board chair. “It is hard not to be compelled by the mission.”

Wilson, an attorney who was named to the VFC board only a year ago, said she was introduced to the nonprofit when she attended a previous Starry, Starry Night gala where she heard from a teen foster child who “spoke quite movingly about her experience … I heard what could be done through CASAs.”

CASAs, who undergo an intense training program and make an 18-month commitment, stand up for the children who are in foster or group homes, investigating legal, educational and health issues and working with all of the parties involved in the case. They make recommendations about the child’s placement, whether it is to remain in a foster home, be reunited or adopted. And many, Wilson noted, stay with their case children for years, even until they age out of the foster system at 18 or 19.

Fishburn learned about the program when she was in the Junior League. One of their projects was reading court files on dependency court cases – a task now handled by Voices for Children.

“Several of our members were very active with Voices in its infancy,” she said. Then there was a small office in the juvenile court with a staff of two; now the staff totals 45 and while there’s still a small office in the Kearny Mesa courthouse to handle day-to-day court activities, there’s also a full suite of offices offsite for the administration, including CEO Sharon M. Lawrence, and supervisors who oversee the CASAs.

Fishburn and Wilson met about 30 years ago when Wilson and her date Steven Strauss – and now husband -— went to a party with a new group of young lawyers where their friend Wain Fishburn “introduced a new gal into the group of lawyers,” Wilson recalled..

Soon they were attending each other’s weddings and becoming fast friends. Through the years both have been involved in numerous charitable organizations, including Las Patronas, the philanthropy that raises funds for a number of causes throughout San Diego County.

Fishburn served as president and co-chair of the organization’s Jewel Ball – one of the county’s premiere charity events. Wilson, who became involved with Las Patronas at her friend’s urging, also chaired the Jewel Ball, which is held each year at the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club.

Now they are putting their expertise in organizing charity events to work for Voices for Children’s Sept. 29 gala.

While their excitement about the evening from the menu to the venue is evident, it’s the cause that has them working countless hours. From tasting what they say will be an exciting menu put together by Rancho Valencia Resort’s executive chef Eric Bauer to the music and live and silent auctions, it is the cause that keeps them going — and the stories that will be shared bout the CASAs’ work.

“Our focus is on Voices’ mission statement,” Wilson said, but the idea is to plan “a fun event that will make them want to come back, to involve people.”

Fishburn noted that a successful fundraiser “showcases they agency. We only have people’s attention for a short time. We want to educate them and get their support.”

Because Voices for Children is 99 percent privately funded, she added, “we are reliant on people contributing from our community. … This is our opportunity to shine a light on the issue and raise the profile going forward.”

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