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  • Megann Horstead

CASA of Will County hosts 8th annual Christmas Express

From Joliet to Tinley Park, Court Appointed Special Advocates of Will County pulled out all the stops for the 8th annual Christmas Express on Dec. 3 and Dec. 4.

The event is one of four fundraisers ran by CASA aimed at raising funds to support the nonprofit organization in the effort to advocate for and represent abused and neglected children in Will County.

Christmas Express allowed children and their families to arrive at Joliet Union Station to find cookies, cocoa and games.

Upon arrival in Tinley Park, the event featured sleigh rides, crafts and pictures with Santa. Additionally, CASA hosted breakfast or lunch for children and their families at Durbin’s.

CASA event manager Lisa Gunggoll said it’s nice seeing how Christmas Express gets the community involved.

“It grows every year,” she said, adding that this year it sold out.

Colleen Mora is a member of CASA’s board of directors. She said the event’s ability to draw people in is made possible, in part, because it holds great significance to support the cause.

“The Christmas event we’re having, I think, is a nice way to show during the season of giving, people being able to come, being able to give and be able go through this whole (experience)—you know the crafts and the reindeer food and the face painting—and having a good day and knowing that all their money is going towards taking care of these kids,” she said. “So, they get a day of enjoyment with Santa Claus and the reindeers and elves and also get to help the children and CASA.”

Peter Dolgner, of Romeoville, said he was enjoying all of what Christmas Express offers.

“For me, it brings me back to being a kid,” he said.

Dolgner was riding one of the Christmas Express trains to Tinley Park with his family.

Peter’s wife, Laurie Dolgner said kicking off the holiday season early by attending the event was a nice way to spend the day.

“For me, it’s about family,” she said. “It’s a reminder of how important it is to spend time with family.”

Laurie said she and her family had tried their hand at many of the activities offered at Joliet Union Station.

Laurie said her children had never rode a train until then.

“I think they’re very excited about that, too,” she said.

Kassie Bay, of Frankfort, said she was looking forward to this year’s Christmas Express.

“It was the best Christmas thing we did last year,” she said. “(It) was like the best holiday event we went to.”

Bay said while visiting Joliet Union Station, her kids tried their hand at a number of activities including painting and the mini golf game.

Noting that Christmas is a big deal for she and her family, Bay said she enjoys having an early chance to get into the holiday season spirit.

“Since the kids are little, we like to do a lot of festive activities,” she said.

Proceeds from Christmas Express will support the effort to train community volunteers to represent and advocate for abused and neglected children in Will County.

The event typically brings in between $40,000 and $45,000.

Mora said the work of CASA is important on a number of levels.

“We really need to have advocates that care about the children that go into the (Department of Child and Family Services) system, that stay with our kids from the time they come in to the time they leave the system.” she said. “They get to the know the kids; they get to the know foster families that they go with; they go to the court; they advocate for them; they really take an interest and a love for these children. I believe in that because I think our kids are our future, and we need somebody that’s going to mentor them.”

Noting that she’s an adoptive parent, Mora said she understands the system and what people go through.

Gunggoll said she would like for people to know there are a number of ways to giveback to CASA.

“There’s so much that they can do (to support CASA),” Gunggoll said. “There’s a lot of different ways that they can help.”

Gunggoll explained that CASA is looking for people to spread the word about what they do, volunteer and provide donations.

Gunggoll said CASA supports 60 percent of the kids in the county. The organizational goal is to reach 100 percent of those in need, she said.

CASA is a sponsor of United Way. For more information on how to support the organization or get involved, visit

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