ELIZABETH, NJ - Elizabeth residents Magdiel Rubiano and Lisa Riley are among the latest volunteers to successfully train as advocates for Union County youth removed from home due to abuse or neglect, and now living in foster care. Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Union County is the only organization serving as extra eyes and ears for family law judges in an effort to protect best interests and ensure needs are met.

Rubiano, originally from Colombia, shared his motivation for becoming a child advocate. “When I came to the United States as an immigrant, the community adopted me when I was vulnerable. Today I want to give back to the community. There is no better place to accomplish this than with CASA. It’s the voice of the most vulnerable, the children that have nobody to speak for them.” 

As the soon-to-be advocates arrived at the courthouse, Judge Richard Wischusen continued his practice of exiting his courtroom to greet and speak with the waiting volunteers. Later, while on the bench during the ceremony, he commended each for their commitment to the community’s fragile child victims, and discussed the value of the CASA program to those children and case stakeholders, noting he always reads the CASA report and seeks their input during hearings. 

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Volunteers with varied backgrounds make successful advocates and this class, ages 24 to 71, is no exception. Each brings diverse experiences, including an adoptee, an adoptive parent, former military, immigrants, nonparents and parents, retirees, full- and part-time employees, and undergraduate and graduate students. Professional backgrounds include education, retail, nonprofit, information technology, and academia. Most had no prior knowledge of the foster system.

The final step before meeting their assigned foster youth is observation of seasoned CASA volunteers in court. Once assigned to the case, a court order grants access to the child, foster parents, doctors, caseworkers, therapists and teachers, enabling advocates to make informed recommendations in the child’s best interests.

There are approximately 500 Union County youth from birth to age 21 in foster care, and more than 200 are waiting for a CASA volunteer. 

If you would like to become an advocate Contact Courtney at cgreen@casaofunioncounty.org or 908-293-8136 to learn more.

Group Photo shows Judge Richard Wischusen, center, and Union County’s newest child advocates. They are, from left, Lisa Riley of Elizabeth, Anuja Bhamere of Berkeley Heights, Diane McCurdy of Mountainside, Adrian Lobo of Westfield, Guitry Banks of Jamesburg, Magdiel Rubiano of Elizabeth, Chris Tobin of Cranford, Victoria Utoh of Union and Karen Villareal of Scotch Plains. Not pictured, Beth Rudnick of Westfield.

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