A unique event is coming to Americus on Saturday, April 9. What makes it remarkable is not that it will be at the historic Rylander Theatre, in downtown Americus, not that it will feature the 1942 movie Casablanca, not that antique cars from the 1930s and ‘40s will be lining the street in front of the theater and not even that its participants are encouraged to wear themed period attire. No! What makes it truly special is that the event is not a fundraiser. It’s a “friendraiser.”

“‘Casablanca: a friendraiser’ has been specifically designed to promote child abuse awareness, while expressing gratitude to our friends in the community for all the support given to our program,” said Michelle Willis, board vice chair of SOWEGA CASA, a nonprofit organization advocating for abused and neglected children throughout the region. “And we’re also hoping to make some new friends by encouraging volunteerism to the program.”

The event, which takes place Saturday, April 9, will begin at 6 p.m. with a themed reception. As people approach the historic 1920s theater, they will be reminded of what it might have been like to attend the opening of the movie in 1942. Lining Lamar Street will be cars from the period, including a 1930 deluxe coupe with rumble seat; 1933, 1934 and 1939 Fords; a 1931 Chevy roadster; and 1929 and 1925 Model T’s.

In addition to the movie, the highlight of the evening will be the raffling of the artwork donated by Jeff Williams. Valued at $3,800, raffle tickets will be sold for $20 each, with the winning ticket to be drawn at the movie’s end. One hundred limited, numbered and originally signed prints will also be sold at the event. The 16x20 mixed-media painting on canvas depicts the two leading characters, played by Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, embracing in front of the Rylander’s marquee.

“I wanted to create a piece that had a smoky, vintage, hand-painted photo feel, so mixed media was my choice for capturing the romance that was Casablanca," said Jeff Williams, the Kentucky Derby/Oaks 2009 official artist who recently opened a studio in Americus. “My vision was a scene outside Rick’s Cafe with the Rylander Theatre in the background — Rick and Ilsa locked arms like it was their last time together and all they had was their love for each other,” Williams said.

Brad Ray, executive director of SOWEGA CASA, said the event has three main purposes. The first two are to help advance the promotion of National Child Abuse Prevention month (which is April) and encourage volunteerism for the program. The other is to bring the community together.

“This is about the nostalgic feel of the Rylander Theatre, the celebrity of the movie and the history pulsing through Americus all coming together, “ said Ray. “It will be a magical night and all for a wonderful cause — advocating for our most vulnerable children.”

The mission of SOWEGA CASA (which is a 501(c)3, non-profit organization) is to recruit, screen, train and supervise volunteers who advocate for abused, neglected and abandoned children throughout the region. The purpose of the organization is to ensure each of these children receives safety and permanency as quickly and appropriately as possible.

For tickets or more information, call SOWEGA CASA at 931-4488 or the Rylander Theatre at 931-0001.