ELIZABETH, NJ  — Two Union residents are among the newest class of Court Appointed Special Advocate volunteers tasked with serving as extra eyes and ears for family law judges on cases of Union County youth removed from home due to abuse, neglect or abandonment and now living in foster homes or residential facilities.

David Bernot and Andrea Dudley completed 30 hours of training with Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Union County, and along with their classmates, assembled at the Union County Family Courthouse to take their oath as advocates and judicial volunteers from Superior Court Judges Marc Brown and Richard Wischusen.

Bernot noted, “As Dr. Albert Schweitzer said, ‘The purpose of human life is to serve, and to show compassion and the will to help others’,” said Bernot.  “I believe I can make a difference in someone's life.”

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As for what inspired Dudley to pursue child advocacy, she said, “My passion for helping others led me to CASA. I will work to ensure the voice of the most vulnerable children are heard and advocate on their behalf.”

The new advocate class ranges from ages 28 to 61, are both parents and nonparents, and lines of work that include education, legal, real estate pharmaceuticals and freelancing. Most had no prior knowledge of the foster system. Others in the class include Rich Leahey of Cranford, Ona Ndupu of Hillside, Vicki Racelis of Rahway, Susan Ruszala of Scotch Plains and Janet Smith of New Providence.

After three hours’ court observation to see seasoned CASA volunteers in action, each of the advocates will meet their assigned foster youth. With court-ordered access to foster parents, doctors, caseworkers, therapists and teachers, CASA volunteers incorporate their findings into court reports and work to ensure each youth’s needs are met and best interests protected. They are a constant during chaos and work to ensure the youth’s trauma is not exacerbated in care.

There are approximately 500 Union County youth from birth to age 21 in foster care, and more than 200 still need their very own CASA volunteer, someone in their corner.  For details on upcoming trainings, contact Courtney at 908-293-8136 or cgreen@casaofunioncounty.org.