Union County Superior Court Judge James Hely administered oaths to 13 community members — among them Michelle Lessner of Westfield — as volunteers trained to serve as extra eyes and ears for family law judges hearing cases involving Union County’s abused, neglected or abandoned children in foster care. One additional classmate will be sworn in at a later date.

The new child advocates completed 30 hours in the nonprofit’s flex-training option that comprises five in-person sessions rather than the traditional 10-session course, and also which incorporates an online learning component. After the new advocates took their oath from the judge and received a commemorative CASA pin and certificate, they gathered with family members, friends and staff for a celebratory luncheon at Michelino’s Restaurant in Elizabeth, during which they were matched to their first case and foster youth.

Volunteers with varied backgrounds make successful advocates and this class is no exception: Advocates range from 28 to 77 years old; are parents and non-parents, and include work histories as a professor; teachers; careers in sales, finance and the health industry; a homemaker and two retirees. In addition to English, languages spoken are Spanish and Tamil. Most had no prior knowledge of the foster system.

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

For details on future trainings, contact Courtney at 908-527-7045 or cgreen@casaofunioncounty.org. To inquire about other ways to support CASA of Union County, contact Executive Director Marla Higginbotham at 908-527-7041 or marlah@casaofunioncounty.org.

Pictured: New CASA volunteers are, from left, Kathleen Walsh of New Providence, Celeste Maslovsky of Watchung, Michelle Lessner of Westfield, Kristi Abbey of Berkeley Heights, Nohemy Morales of Linden, Kristine Lockwood of North Plainfield, Nancy Kinney of Mountainside, Johanna Aguilera and Naveen Nagarajan of Summit, Sheri Glover-Flanagan of Scotch Plains, Ruth Tolles of Summit, Arielle Bennett of Brooklyn, N.Y., and Catherine Renga of Clark. Not pictured is Deborah Jones of Linden who will be sworn in at a later date.