Union’s Aáse Forbes Among New CASA Volunteers

Elizabeth, NJ — Union County Superior Court Judge Daniel R. Lindemann has administered oaths to two graduating classes of community members among them Aáse Forbes of Unionwho’ve stepped up to serve as extra eyes and ears for Family Court judges on cases involving the county’s abused, neglected or abandoned children currently in foster care. Of the two classes, one had 19 participants, including CASA of Union County’s new executive director, Marla Higginbotham. The second is the result of the nonprofit offering for the first time a five-session, intensive day training at its offices, and included nine volunteers.

The new CASA volunteers completed 30 hours of training. After performing the oaths, Judge Lindemann stepped off the bench and personally thanked each advocate for committing to serve children in need of a voice. Members of the organization’s board participated, and each new advocate received a commemorative pin and certificate. During celebratory luncheons that followed, advocates were matched to their new case and learned about their youth.

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Volunteers with varied backgrounds and experiences make successful advocates, and these classes are no exception: They range in age from 22 to 75 and most have no prior knowledge of the foster system. They include parents, non-parents and empty-nesters; a recent college graduate and recent retiree; careers include health professionals, school personnel, counselors, legal professionals, former military, business entrepreneurs and homemakers. Languages spoken in addition to English include Spanish, German, French and Yoruba. Several experienced abuse in their own childhoods.

William “Joe” Goodson of Plainfield, a CASA volunteer years ago who returned to help another child now that his own schedule allowed, said this work is a calling. “I know the situation in the African-American community, and I want to give back. I’ve been there and done that. We need more positive role models for these children who need us. I can make a difference and be someone they relate to, and that’s what I’m looking for.” Goodson added that on Thanksgiving, his CASA youth weighed heavily on his mind: “I’m looking at a table full of food and family and thinking of him, wondering, ‘Is he ok, today?’ ”

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 time in care is as short as possible. There are 600 Union County children currently in foster care; CASA of Union County serves approximately one-third of those and its mission is to provide an advocate for every child that needs one.

For details on future training sessions, several of which incorporate new, flexible options and timeframes, contact Lisa at 908-527-7048 or lporis@casaofunioncounty.org. To inquire about other ways to support CASA of Union County, contact Marla at 908-527-7041 or marlah@casaofunioncounty.org.