Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Union County’s 4th annual Foster the Dream Gala at Shackamaxon Country Club in Scotch Plains on Nov. 4 was sold out, as more than 280 attendees enjoyed dinner, dancing, fireworks and auctions, and feted the nonprofit’s advocacy work for local children in foster care as well as several honorees, including long-time Westfield resident Alice Brucia.

Brucia, who received the Dream-Keeper Award for Outstanding Volunteerism, completed CASA’s 30-hour training in 2012 and immediately began advocating for a sibling set of six foster youth, all placed in numerous foster homes throughout the county. She has built unique bonds with each of the children whose young lives have been tumultuous at best. Alice knows their unique academic, social and behavioral needs, and can recite their successes, placements, losses, talents and event their biggest fears. Her tenacious advocacy both in and out of the courtroom speaks for itself: 14 court reports, 16 court hearings, three judges, 80 recommendations formalized into judges’ orders and nearly 30 others informally accepted on the record.

Although Brucia retired from full-time teaching in 2012, she’s continued part-time ever since — all while serving as a child advocate. Currently working in a kindergarten wrap program, Alice’s volunteer commitment to children also includes tutoring homeless children at St. Joseph's Social Center in Elizabeth, efforts with Head Start, and teaching CCD for 16 years at St. Helen’s Church in Westfield.

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Executive Director Marla Higginbotham notes, “Alice has been a beacon for six young children during a time when their lives have been so uncertain. It is CASA’s privilege to have her in our ranks, tireless advocating for their needs and ensuring their interests remain top priority. CASA recruits, trains, supervises and supports community volunteers to advocate for abused, neglected and abandoned Union County children placed in foster homes or residential facilities — and Alice has unequivocally proven to be the epitome of what a CASA volunteer should be. She is an inspiration to us all.”

CASA volunteers are empowered by court order to speak to all parties in a foster child’s life and serve as eyes and ears for the judge and a voice for the child placed into the system through no fault of their own. There are nearly 600 Union County children in foster care due to abuse, neglect or abandonment, and CASA of Union County serves one-third. Its goal is to provide a CASA volunteer for every foster child that needs one.

For details on CASA’s next advocate training sessions, several of which incorporate new, flexible options and timeframes, contact Rachel at 908-527-7045 or rwhite@casaofunioncounty.org. To inquire about other ways to support CASA of Union County, contact Marla at 908-527-7041 or marlah@casaofunioncounty.org.