CASA Reinforces Protecting Our Kids Across 19 Towns for National Night Out

In a strong showing of support for safe kids and safe communities, CASA for Children of Mercer and Burlington Counties mobilized volunteers, staff and trustees to participate in the 2018 National Night Out across 19 towns on August 6 & 7.  The annual event, organized by police departments on the first Tuesday of August, offer CASA a chance to connect with thousands of neighbors in a single evening to recruit more volunteers to speak up in family court on behalf of children who have been removed from their homes because of abuse and neglect.

This marked the first year that CASA launched the outreach event on a large scale.  Close to 40 volunteers – armed with brochures, clipboards, colorfully painted signs and large cut-out “cardboard kids” – shared their passion and commitment for an organization that depends on hundreds of volunteers who provide consistency for children languishing in the family court system.

The concept of getting out a “Call for Volunteers” germinated from a meeting with Senator Troy Singleton, who represents the Seventh Legislative District in the New Jersey Senate and his introduction to the Burlington Police Chiefs Association.  “We appreciate the wonderful introduction to the Police Chiefs Association from Senator Singleton. We look forward to strengthening our partnerships with our police departments across Burlington and Mercer Counties and our involvement in National Night Out is a great beginning. CASA also has many dedicated advocates who are retired police officers and we are looking to grow these numbers this year.” stated Katherine Carmichael, Executive Director, CASA for Children of Mercer and Burlington Counties.

CASA participated in these Burlington County towns at National Night Out:  Bordentown, Burlington City, Evesham, Lumberton, Maple Shade, Medford, Pemberton, Westampton and Willingboro.  CASA participated in these Mercer County towns during National Night Out: East Windsor, Ewing,

Hamilton, Hightstown, Lawrence Township, Princeton, Robbinsville, and West Windsor.  CASA reached across the border to also participate at National Night Out in Morrisville, PA.

See our National Night Out Gallery for more photos.

Kappa Alpha Theta Sorority at Princeton University Donates Winnings from Powder Puff Tournament to CASA for Children of Mercer & Burlington Counties

Photo of the Kappa Alpha Theta team (with a few friends/coaches) which won $300 for CASA! Thanks to the team and Captain Delaney Kerkhof ‘18 (bottom row, in the orange shoes).

For more than 25 years, the national philanthropic project of Kappa Alpha Theta and Kappa Alpha Theta Foundation has been Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA).  Both college and alumnae chapters host events throughout the year to support their state and local CASA organizations.

Kappa Alpha Theta Sorority gives to CASA in many ways:  As thoughtful advocates, committed volunteers and generous donors.  Every year the Princeton Panhellenic Council puts on a Powderpuff tournament between the three sororities at Princeton University:  Kappa Alpha Theta -“Theta”, Pi Beta Phi, and Kappa Kappa Gamma. The prize is $300 to be donated to the winner’s philanthropy partner.   Theta has dominated in recent years, and 2018 was no different!  The women of Theta were proud to compete for CASA and even more proud to bring home the win!  CASA thanks Kappa Alpha Theta for  their generosity and competitive spirit!

Statement Regarding Separation of Children and Parents During the Immigration Process

For nearly 40 years the National Court Appointed Special Advocate Association (National CASA) has advocated for the best interests of children who have experienced abuse or neglect. One of our guiding principles is that children are better off when they remain with their families of origin if safely possible.

We also know the long-term effects of trauma that children experience when they are separated from their parents, which are most often detrimental to their well-being and can have long-term negative impact.

While CASA programs and volunteers work in family or juvenile court systems, not the federal court system, we support best-interest advocacy for all children. We have been deeply concerned about the family separations at the Southwest border and thank those who have spoken out on behalf of these children. We join with these voices.

If children involved in immigration proceedings become involved in family or juvenile court, we urge the appointment of a CASA/GAL volunteer to advocate for the child’s best interest and help the court make the most well-informed decision in these tremendously important matters.

We ask our nation’s legislators to carefully consider the impacts on children when they address immigration legislation so that no child is subjected to further trauma.

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Church & Dwight Employees Volunteer Day

CASA welcomed 15 employees from Church & Dwight in Princeton for a fun afternoon of volunteering to brighten the lives of children in the foster care system. The Church & Dwight volunteers chose CASA for Children of Mercer and Burlington Counties during a “week of service” to help kids in the local community who are in need of essential items and services.

The enthusiastic volunteers who are chemists or technicians by profession, divided into small teams to create a dozen “no sew” fleece blankets for CASA foster youth who are often shuffled between housing or residential facilities with very few possessions.  The “no sew” blankets were created in bright patterns and presented to the CASA Staff who will distribute them to the youth from our service area of Mercer and Burlington Counties.  The fleece blankets represent hope and happiness for children who have many challenges as they move through the family court system.

CASA has many ways for people across the community to get involved helping CASA serve more foster children who need a caring adult to advocate for their best interests. In June 2018 Church & Dwight Employees volunteered their time at CASA in Ewing to create handmade blankets for youth in our programs.

Appreciating CASA’s Compassionate and Dedicated Volunteers

Katherine Carmichael, Executive Director, CASA for Children of Mercer and Burlington Counties and Phyllis Kepner, CASA volunteer and first recipient of the Eileen Fralinger Service Award.

More than 60 volunteers, staff, family court judges and board members attended the 2018 Burlington County CASA Appreciation Awards dinner at Casamari in Burlington, NJ on May 15.  CASA for Children of Mercer and Burlington Counties is celebrating the volunteers with years of service pins and certificates.  This year a special service award was established in memory of Eileen Fralinger, a dedicated CASA volunteer who passed away in November 2017.   Eileen’s daughter Erin Fralinger and sister, Lorraine Reilly accepted the plaque in her memory.

The recipient of the First Annual Eileen Fralinger Service Award was presented to Phyllis Kepner of Burlington, NJ.  Phyllis has been an advocate for four years and has advocated on two cases. Her last case lasted most of the time she has been an advocate given the complicated situation her children were facing. On her case, Phyllis played a big part in finding her children’s forever home. Phyllis has also served the organization by assisting at community recruitment events and being part of the Advocate Committee. Phyllis is very passionate about helping

Several of CASA’s Burlington Staff at the 2018 Burlington County CASA Appreciation Awards dinner (L-R): Renée Paci, Director of Programs, Ines Ramirez, JD, CASA Supervisor, Jade Pollock, CASA Supervisor, Harry Cassidy, Advocate Recruiter.

the children she serves and will thoroughly investigate each aspect of the situation until she has all the answers. She is someone that will be involved in her children’s life as long as they wish, and have received support from her even after her role as CASA has been done.  Phyllis is an inspiration to all who know her.

Voice of Business Awards Reception and Ceremony

On April 30, 2018 CASA for Children of Mercer and Burlington Counties received the Community Enrichment Award at the Voice of Business Awards Reception and Ceremony sponsored by the Burlington Regional Chamber of Commerce. Pictured here (L-R): Jill Ross, Vice President/Market Director Beneficial Bank; Roseann Vanella, President, Board of Trustees, CASA for Children of Mercer and Burlington Counties; Katherine Carmichael, Executive Director, CASA for Children of Mercer and Burlington Counties; Sandra Sciacca, Chairperson, Voice of Business Committee; Dennis Devery, Vice President Planning and Research, Thomas Edison State University; Kristi Howell, President/CEO, Burlington County Chamber of Commerce.

CASA for Children of Mercer and Burlington County was the 2018 recipient of the Community Enrichment Award at the Voice of Business Awards Reception and Ceremony on April 30 at the Merion in Cinnaminson, NJ.  This award recognizes a non-profit organization or agency that makes Burlington County a better place by making a positive impact on the lives of Burlington County residents.  The recipient demonstrates specific examples of its far-reaching commitment to the community.  Katherine Carmichael, Executive Director, CASA for Children of Mercer and Burlington Counties accepted the award on the organization’s behalf.

Pinwheels for a Purpose

CASA for Children of Mercer and Burlington Counties planted pinwheel gardens this spring to highlight the children in out-of-home placement who have a CASA volunteer speaking up in their best interests. The pinwheel gardens are part of a national movement to highlight the thousands of children across the Nation who are in foster care at any given time.

A Pinwheel Garden was “planted” at The College of New Jersey by CASA Staff to illustrate the children who have a CASA volunteer compared to those who still need a CASA volunteer. The number of children who need a CASA volunteer far exceeds the number who currently have a CASA to speak up for their best interests.

 

A Pinwheel Garden was “planted” at the Princeton Pike Corporate Center by CASA Staff and Friends with 420 red pinwheels to illustrate the children in foster care for Mercer County as of June 30, 2017.

2018 Mercer County Advocate Appreciation Awards

More than 50 volunteers, staff, family court judges and board members attended the 2018 Mercer County Advocate Appreciation Awards dinner on April 9 at Mercer Oaks Clubhouse in Hamilton Township on April 9. CASA for Children of Mercer and Burlington Counties is celebrating the volunteers with years of service pins and certificates.  The awards dinner was a wonderful evening to recognize the tireless work of volunteers who are the consistent adult in children’s lives while in out-of-home placement.  The evening was particularly special because CASA honored Judge Audrey P. Blackburn, who is retiring after a distinguished judicial career – much of it devoted to improving the lives of children in foster care to create forever families.  Judge Thompson also made some brief remarked and thanked the volunteers for their compassion and tenacity.

Child Sexual Abuse Awareness and Prevention with Sasha Joseph Neulinger

Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) for Children of Mercer and Burlington Counties hosted a public presentation with Sasha Joseph Neulinger, actor, filmmaker and survivor of child sexual abuse at The College of New Jersey in Ewing. Sasha is a national advocate for reforms in child abuse and child abuse prevention.  The statistics are alarming: one out of four girls and one of out of six boys are sexually abused before they are 18 years old. Sasha Joseph Neulinger shared his poignant story with a audience of CASA volunteers, educators, counselors and students.  His TedX Talk is a powerful story to people around the world. Sasha’s TED Talk on March 27, 2015, Trauma is Irreversible. How It Shapes Us Is Our Choice has been viewed over 170,000 times to date. Sasha recounts his trauma in his film-making, ”There were countless moments in my life where I wanted to silence myself, crawl into a corner, and disappear from the world. Between the ages of 7 and 13, I even tried to end my life a few different ways. I choose love. I choose patience…. most of the time.”

Get to Know CASA and Meet Guillermo

CASA, court appointed special advocates, is a group of community volunteers who have been appointed by the family court and have undergone training. These volunteers all have a similar interest of advocating for abused and neglected children that have been removed from their homes. The Family Court Judges delegate each child to a CASA volunteer where they then aim to maintain their emotional, physical, and educational well-being by monitoring where they are placed. Volunteers stay with each case until it is closed and the child is placed in a safe, permanent home.

Our advocates change children’s lives. Lives like Guillermo, who was trafficked to the United States from Ecuador when he was 11 years old and forced into manual labor, to pay off family debts. He was made to work every day and not allowed to attend school. Finally, after five years Guillermo escaped and contacted the local police. Child Protective Services then helped him move into a youth homeless shelter as an emergency placement. Our CASA volunteer, Noelle, was assigned to Guillermo a month later. Noelle quickly realized how much support Guillermo needed and didn’t hesitate to act. Guillermo, on top of having no family connections, spoke very little English and had not gone to school since he was 10 years old. Noelle began making frequent visits to the school and shelter to assess his emotional, physical and educational needs. She developed strong relationships with school personnel and his caseworker to find him a safe, permanent home. As a result, Noelle identified a parent whose son was Guillermo’s best friend, who ultimately became Guillermo’s foster parent. Guillermo now resides with his friend and the family considers him one of their own. Despite being out of school for so long, due to the stability offered at his new home and the partnership Noelle formed with the school, Guillermo is thriving and will have the opportunity to graduate with his peers in a community that cares about him and a family that loves him. Volunteers are the most important resource any community organization can have, but ours are truly essential to our mission. Volunteers like Noelle provide a judge with recommendations and a carefully researched background of the child and their needs, which assists the court in making an informed decision about that child’s future. This past year, 97% of recommendations made by CASA volunteers were accepted by the judge. The work of our volunteers truly makes a difference in a child’s life. Thanks to our generous donors and 258 trained-volunteers, we could serve 352 children this past fiscal year. While we are proud of serving 11% more children with 22% more advocates, we know there is so much more to do. The number of children entering the child welfare system continues to rise substantially. More than 1,000 of our communities’ most vulnerable children living in foster care and residential facilities still need a CASA volunteer.

This year, CASA is hosting a “The Wizard of Oz” theme Red Shoe Gala, where guests are encouraged to wear red shoes to symbolize home. Dorothy’s journey through Oz can be compared with that of a child’s life — a child who faces an uncertain fate. As in “The Wizard of Oz,” the characters of the Tin Man, Cowardly Lion and Scarecrow each play a role in getting Dorothy home safely. Please join us for great music, silent and live auction and dining on Saturday, March 24, at 6:00pm at the Cobblestone Creek Country Club (formerly Green acres Country Club) in Lawrenceville, NJ. For more info, call 609-434-0050 and visit us on the web at www.casamb.org.