Last October I blogged about a nonprofit organization called CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) of Union County. In researching that blog, I came to learn more about this incredible group of volunteers who advocate for the nearly 600 youths in foster care in our county. I was so inspired that I decided to host a fundraiser on Feb. 12th called SHARE THE LOVE, where we raised almost $3,000 to benefit CASA of Union County and the youths it serves!! As you can see from the photos, guests of the fundraiser enjoyed wine, cheese, sweets … and some attendees got extra lucky and left with fabulous prizes!
“The evening couldn’t have been nicer or come at a more apropos time,” said Dominic Prophete, executive director of CASA of Union County. “Indeed, as Valentine’s Day neared, Sharon and her guests were shining examples of the simple yet huge impact to be made when good people share their heart to others. Sharon opened her home to a community she so clearly loves and champions, and became an advocate, a champion for CASA! Sharon’s guests bustled about, interested in being part of something greater than themselves and learning more about ways to help area youth in foster care: becoming a CASA advocate, joining its board of trustees, or donations that fund more advocate training, or offer the promise of prom, summer camp and even braces to foster children that wouldn’t otherwise have these ‘everyday’ childhood opportunities. From wines and scrumptious cheeses to creative raffle baskets from generous local businesses, Sharon’s party was a wonderful reminder of a community not only giving back, but realizing — and seemingly relishing — the immense power in that.”
“What an amazing night! CASA is near and dear to me,” said Gretchen Boger-O’Bryan, senior development and marketing coordinator at CASA. “I have been a volunteer advocate and supervised a team of advocates, and now I’m using those experiences with my journalism background to spread the depth and breadth of CASA’s work in the community. No matter which role any of us play here at CASA, when we walk through the door each morning we carry a huge responsibility, and it’s to the foster youth we advocate for. Children who’ve seen and experienced far greater trauma and loss than anyone ever should. The extraordinary work of dedicated volunteer advocates who juggle their own life responsibilities with their CASA work makes tangible differences in the lives of those who had no voice in being removed from home, in being abused, neglected or abandoned.”
Gretchen continued, “CASAs give their child back a voice, and work toward a future that is safe and a home that is permanent. As we all know, from a loving and safe home, life thrives. It’s no irony Sharon makes her living helping people fulfill the dreams of home; by selflessly opening her own home to us she essentially did so to the 600 children in foster care from Union County. Spending those festive hours surrounded by Sharon’s caring and generous guests showed me Sharon understands that with the good fortune of being part of a comfortable community comes an obligation to pay it forward. It’s then that lives are impacted in big ways. The reality is that when you give back, you get more. I’ve always said that: you get back more of what really matters. I am so grateful Sharon and her assistant Angela, who worked tirelessly to make this night a huge success, totally get that.”
I’d personally like to thank the following local businesses for donating generous gift cards and merchandise to the fundraiser: Just 4 Pooches; Cougar Headquarters; Artist Framer; Atlantic Beach Soap Co.; Periwinkle’s; Cranford Hotel; Kilkenny’s; ATH/100 Steps; Ambeli Greek Taverna; Augusta Mae Boutique; Alfonso’s; Pastosa; Emma’s Brick Oven; Fire Me Up; Perotti’s; Pairings Palate + Plate; Dreyer Farms; Lemondrop Designs; Julie Castillo Small Pieces of Art; Artemisia; Simply Art & Framing; and OXO. Your contributions were such a hit at the event! Thanks also to GiGi’s Cupcakes for the lip-smackingly yummy desserts that were enjoyed by all!
A little background on CASA of Union County: Since 2005, the organization has been recruiting, supervising, and supporting community volunteers to advocate for abused, neglected and abandoned children in foster care. CASA of Union County currently serves just one quarter of the children in foster care; it is CASA’s goal to provide an advocate for EVERY foster child.
What does a CASA do, exactly? CASAs provide consistency during tumult, compassion during confusion. They ensure a youth’s best interests are prioritized in court and the community, and that time spent in foster care is as short — and peaceful — as possible. Every child deserves a safe and permanent home, and CASAs work tirelessly toward that end.
To become a CASA, each volunteer must undergo extensive training and then be sworn in by a judge, who issues a court order allowing the CASA to access on the parties in the youth’s life to ensure their needs are being met. Gretchen says: “We are, in a sense, a second set of eyes and ears for the judge.”
It is by no means an easy job to serve as a CASA. But the positive impact made by a CASA can change the course of a child’s life for the better, and according to many volunteers, that’s what makes the hard work worthwhile. Jona Cannon, an advocate since 2009, says: “Being a CASA is the most powerfully real thing I’ve done outside the realm of motherhood. I learned to keep the child at the focal point, tap into the guidance of my supervisor and trust my intuition. I came to realize that a CASA’s work does make a difference and that giving voice to those who have none is truly bigger than oneself.”
If you’re interested in learning more about how to become a CASA, below is a list of upcoming informational sessions and their locations/times. You can also find more information about CASA on their website: www.casaofunionounty.org
CASA INFORMATIONAL SESSIONS
Union County Clerk’s Office
300 North Ave East
Westfield, NJ 07090
6pm – 7pm:
Monday, February 22nd
1143-1145 East Jersey Street
Elizabeth, NJ 07201
Friday, February 26th
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