ELIZABETH, NJ - Hilltop City residents Samantha Heimple and Lisa Scott of Summit are part of the latest group of seven Court Appointed Special Advocates of Union County (CASA) volunteers to be sworn in by Union County Superior Court Judge James Hely.
Each volunteer will serve as an extra set of eyes and ears for family law judges hearing cases involving Union County’s abused, neglected or abandoned children in foster care.
Joining Heimple and Scott in the class are Harsh Sharma of Springfield, Jennifer Brady of Scotch Plains, Kim Schumacher of Westfield, Neha Sharma of Springfield and Nicholas Ponzio of Westfield.
In order to advocate for a foster child, volunteers completed 30 hours in a flex-training that combines six in-person sessions with an online learning component. Family, friends and CASA staffers looked on as the class took their oath from Judge Hely and received a commemorative CASA pin and certificate. Afterwards, the group enjoyed a celebratory luncheon and received their case and foster youth match. This training class was made possible by a grant from the Westfield Service League.
Volunteers with varied backgrounds make successful advocates and this class is no exception: Advocates include a husband-and-wife team, range from 32 to 72 years old; are parents to children ages one to 38; and include such professional backgrounds as medical school professor, teachers, businesspeople and homemakers. In addition to English, languages spoken are Spanish, Gujarti and Hindi. Most had no prior knowledge of the foster system.
CASA volunteers have court-ordered access to all parties in a child’s life, including foster parents, doctors, caseworkers, therapists and teachers, and incorporate into court reports findings from these contacts as well as time spent with the youth. Volunteers advocate both in the community and court to ensure their youth’s needs are met and their time in care is as short as possible.
The nonprofit's goal is that every Union County foster child that needs a CASA volunteer has one, yet nearly half of the more than 500 Union County youth in care still need a CASA volunteer to protect their best interests.
Two advocate training sessions are forming now that incorporate six in-person meetings with online coursework: Saturday mornings starting February 24, and Tuesday evenings starting April 3. For more information, contact Lisa Poris at 908-293-8135.