WAYNE, NJ – The word Casa is Spanish for home. CASA, as an acronym, stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates. The Passaic County CASA is a non-profit organization that recruits and trains volunteers to represent and advocate for children in foster care. All of CASA's efforts are to help these children find a safe and long-term home. Each Special Advocate is the voice for the child in the court system.
As an organization, CASA also provides food, clothing, school supplies and any other necessities to the children in foster care, culminating at the end of the year with holiday gifts for the hundreds of children they represent.
Public sector funding supports CASA, but charitable donations are a big part of their budget.
In the past, most of CASA’s fundraising efforts have been tied around events. But, state mandates have forced them to cancel every one. These same mandates have closed the courtrooms and, for the safety of all involved, stopped Advocates from visiting their clients.
"Like so many non-profit organizations, Passaic County CASA has had to adjust our strategies to raise critical funds during these uncertain times," said Courtney Como, Director of Development of Passaic County CASA. “Fortunately, we exist among a community of people who believe in the work of CASA and understand that as these funding streams have dried up overnight, our need swelled at the same time.”
According to Como, regular donors continue to help in many ways, both general and specific, this can include direct donations, or purchasing diapers for a family who can't get them, for example. One generous individual donated a laptop to a third-grader who needed it to keep up with online schoolwork.
In a creative move, CASA started a lawn sign fundraiser. They’ve created a professionally designed lawn sign that reads: “Thank you to All the Heroes Among Us." They sell these on their website for $20.00, which includes free delivery to certain counties.
People can display the signs as a way of saying thank you to front-line workers and at the same time support CASA.
“For everyone who purchased one of our signs or made a cash gift to guarantee that our advocacy work for children keeps going strong, we are so grateful,” said Como. “We need the support of each member of our community on behalf of our most vulnerable youth, more than ever."
The fundraising must continue and so must the advocating.
“We have representatives of CASA phoning in to all court hearings,” said Jess Mickley, the Director of Outreach and Training. “All of our volunteers are still submitting court reports to the judges on all the children’s cases, and so each child still has that advocate’s voice at every court hearing.”
"Child abuse doesn't stop during a pandemic,” she added. “Some of our kids are very high risk and have a lot of needs, and so our volunteers are still working.”
Each volunteer must meet directly with each child at least once a month, face-to-face. Now these meetings are happening via phone, online virtual meetings or chat apps.
Mickley has had to make some changes to her training program for new volunteers. “I quickly adapted our in-person advocate training to one that is facilitated entirely in a remote setting, so we can provide an advocate whenever a child needs one,” she said.
“In addition, we stepped up our advocacy in other ways,” said Mickley. “We’re having the volunteers talk to the foster parent at least once per week, just to see how they are doing in this chaos.”
“We are really focusing on basic needs now because of the economic uncertainty,” said Mickley. “So, we’re making sure that everyone has something to eat; that everyone has clothing and our kids are safe.”
CASA also supports their clients as they’ve transitioned to online, distance learning. They are making sure that the children are keeping up with their work and have the technology to do so. There are some advocates who are providing impromptu and informal tutoring where needed.
Mickley finished with an interesting point. “These children are not seeing their teachers in person. They’re not seeing their doctors or their therapists. So, receiving regular contact with their advocate is now more important than ever.”
Visit: www.PassaicCountyCASA.org to see how you can help support this great organization.
Know a story we should share with readers? Email the publisher, Ferris and tell him about it.