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This nonprofit was just honored by the state for helping youth in Merced County

From left, CASA of Merced County Executive Director Cathie Lancaster, Former Board President Bette Woolstenhulme and Founding President Nancy Young-Berman pose with Assemblymember Adam Gray during California Nonprofit day on Wednesday, June 6, 2018, in Sacramento. CASA of Merced County was honored as the 2018 California Nonprofit of the Year from Gray's district.
From left, CASA of Merced County Executive Director Cathie Lancaster, Former Board President Bette Woolstenhulme and Founding President Nancy Young-Berman pose with Assemblymember Adam Gray during California Nonprofit day on Wednesday, June 6, 2018, in Sacramento. CASA of Merced County was honored as the 2018 California Nonprofit of the Year from Gray's district. Courtesy Office of Assemblymember Adam Gray

A Merced County-based nonprofit has been honored by the state for its work with and advocacy of at-risk children.

Assemblymember Adam Gray, D-Merced, on Wednesday presented the Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA, of Merced County as the 2018 California Nonprofit of the Year from his district at the state Capitol. CASA of Merced County joined 100 other nonprofits during "California Nonprofits Day."

CASA provides intervention and advocacy services for at-risk children, including those abused, abandoned or neglected. CASA of Merced County's work in dealing with one of the highest volume of caseloads per capita in the state is one of the reasons it was honored, according to a news release.

"Children in Merced County need our protection," said cathie Lancaster, executive director of CASA of Merced County, noting there are about 5,600 reports of child abuse or neglect in Merced County each year.

More than 500 children were in foster care in 2017, she said.

"CASA volunteers are oftent he key element in improving the livees and future of children in the Dependency Court System," Gray states in a news release. "What these generous and caring memberes of our community do for some of our most vulnerable children cannot be overstated."

CASA of Merced County was founded in September 2010. On average, the nonprofit serves more than 150 youth each year, according to the organization's website

"Nonprofits make California communities stronger, yet we're often so busy that we don't toot our own horns about the work we're doing," said Jan Masaoka, CEO of the California Association of Nonprofits.

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