Thank you everyone who donated to this year's school supply drive! All of the donations went directly to Passaic County children who are in foster care or who are involved with the child welfare system. Every one of the children we serve started this school year with a shiny new backpack, folders, notebooks, lunchbox, etc.
Volunteer Profile: Margaret Curreri
During the past five years, Passaic County CASA volunteer and Clifton resident Margaret Curreri has advocated for more than 30 children who have been removed from their homes due to abuse and neglect. Every single one has really stuck with her.
“I still remember all of their names,” she said.
The children also remember Curreri. A few years ago, she was visiting a local school when she heard a small, familiar voice call out from across the hallway. “Miss Margaret!” the voice said. Curreri turned and saw two former CASA children running toward her. She hadn’t seen them in years.
Curreri found out about Passaic County CASA through a blurb in the local newspaper. The nonprofit organization, which is based in Wayne but serves all of Passaic County, advocates for Passaic County children who have been removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect. CASA volunteers are court-appointed and trained to ensure that a child’s individual needs remain priority while they are involved with child welfare. Volunteers get to know the child while also gathering information from the family, caretakers, teachers, doctors, and caseworkers in order to make informed recommendations to the family court about the child’s future.
Curreri found out about Passaic County CASA at exactly the right time; one of her close family members had just become a foster parent and she was very interested in learning more about how to support children in foster care.
Curreri attended a CASA volunteer training hosted by current staff member Debbie Morone where she enjoyed learning about the child welfare system, the dynamics of child abuse and neglect, and how to become an effective child advocate. However, she was unexpectedly struck with fear while she was standing in front of the Passaic County judge, waiting to be sworn in as an official Court Appointed Special Advocate.
“How am I going to do this?” Curreri said, thinking about the intensity of the cases she would soon take on.
Luckily for CASA and all of the children Curreri has since helped, that feeling didn’t last.
“Now, I can’t imagine not doing this.”
Born and raised in Paterson, Curreri is Passaic County, through and through. She attended St. Agnes Grammar School on Main Street in Paterson and St. John's High School on Oliver Street in Paterson, and later worked in a Paterson lamp factory, assembling lightbulbs. Margaret comes from a long line of Paterson-ians—her grandmother worked in one of the factories that gave the Silk City its famous nickname.
“By volunteering in Passaic County, I am giving back to the community where I was raised,” Curreri said.
In fact, it was in the heart of Passaic County, at Sacred Heart School in Clifton, where Curreri began her tenure as an active, devoted community volunteer.
Years ago, Curreri was watching her husband George coach basketball when she was suddenly surrounded by a group of seventh-grade students. Each student begged and pleaded with Margaret to start a cheerleading team at Sacred Heart School. Margaret loved the idea, but had one big problem.
She had never cheered before.
Curreri could have easily relayed that to the girls and washed her hands of the whole thing. However, that’s not Margaret Curreri.
Instead, she drove over to the Clifton Main Library, grabbed a stack of books about cheerleading, and read up until she was so knowledgeable on the topic that she not only became the cheerleading coach, but she led the team to numerous first-place wins.
Since then, Curreri has been all about helping children thrive.
Recently, one of her CASA children was being bounced from placement to placement, home to home. In three years, the child had lived in 11 different locations. Curreri fought for the child’s needs in school and requested a variety of evaluations to make sure the child was receiving the proper services. Soon after, the child was placed in the perfect home, and not long after that, the family adopted her. Curreri said that the child is flourishing.
“Her grades went up, she came out of her shell,” Margaret said. “They just have to find a place where they feel safe and loved.”
Margaret loves serving the community that raised her, and hopes others join the cause.
“I wish other people could see the difference we make because we certainly make one."
Dear Friends, Volunteers, Donors and Supporters,
Ten years is a long time in the life of a child. Ten years is a long time in the life of an organization as well. However, when the work is passion and the need is real, ten years can pass in the blink of an eye. It feels like yesterday I walked in for my first day as the brand new and first Executive Director of Passaic County CASA for Children.
That day was a decade ago, on July 2, 2007. As a brand new start up organization with me as its first and only staff member at the time, this meant that July 2 was also the day CASA operations officially began.
Driven by a lifelong passion for children’s rights and child welfare issues, I had accepted the challenge of leading a startup organization with its many unknowns without hesitation. I wrote our first grants, press releases and made contacts from a borrowed cubicle office space or my hand me down kitchen table in my first apartment. We had nothing more than some templates of brochures and policies from the state organization. Passaic County CASA did not even own a desk or an office chair on July 2, 2007 when I began. What we did have was a dedicated and powerful Board of Trustees, a Family Court system who was immensely supportive of CASA’s operations, and a community of children in need of powerful voices.
Over the last ten years, thanks to our amazing community of supporters and volunteers, we have thrived as an organization through the startup phase and into an active continuously growing organization. There have been many days I would wonder if we would ever grow to serve 50 children in a year? 100? More than 150? Today we are an organization of 8 paid staff members, over 80 active volunteer advocates, dozens of special event and outreach volunteers and an active board of trustees serving over 215 abused and neglected children annually. (Plus we own many desks and chairs in an office of our very own now!)
We continue to grow in order to serve every child in Passaic County’s foster care system that is in need. Currently, over 300 children annually are left without an advocate due to limited capacity, but with your continued support we are dedicated to bringing this waiting list to zero.
As we embark into our celebratory 10th Anniversary year of making a difference to children in foster care throughout Passaic County, I reflect back to a young man that I have been blessed to have had known almost all of these last ten years. He is teasingly known around the office as “Child #1” because he was the first case ever assigned to an advocate in Passaic County. Recently he told me, “I don’t know where I would be if CASA hadn’t been assigned to my case. I would probably homeless or in jail. Instead, I have a home and people who care about me.”
We still have a challenge in front of us in order to provide this safety net to every child who is in need. On the start of our tenth year of service to children in foster care, this is a challenge I am ready to once again renew my personal commitment to and I invite you to join me. Everyone can make a difference to a child in foster care through CASA; as an advocate, a board member, a donor, a special event volunteer, an office volunteer, an intern, an ambassador, a project partner or even maybe a staff member.
When this this post is written on our 20th Anniversary, I plan to be writing about how many extra services we are able to provide to every child in foster care because we have grown so much that every child has the benefit of an advocate. If we have been able to do this much in our first 10 years, I can only dream about what will be possible in the next 10.
Yours in Service,
As we celebrate the approach of the end of the school year and start of the summer season, I have to stop and think about all the children that have successfully completed the school year and are in a safe, stable home this year thanks in part to the work done by their CASA volunteers and supporters of the program. There are no limits to the work a CASA does to ensure the well-being of a child in the foster care system. Volunteers have done such an amazing list of things recently, it's impossible to chose the best to share with you.
13 year old Daniel was a difficult child struggling in school with his anger and only achieving D's. He was in a foster home that was too busy to pay attention to him and he was slipping away. His CASA, Candace, however, was persistent. She saw potential in him. She learned his grandmother wished to take guardianship of him, and a cousin who also lived with her was willing to tutor Daniel. Candace spoke to Daniel's school weekly to identify his needs and networked to make sure they were met. She visited him regularly to make sure he had support. Candace spoke up, advocated and educated everyone in Daniel's life until the Judge ordered that Daniel be moved to live with his Grandmother. Daniels' cousin began tutoring him and the extra school support that Candace identified was put in place.
Today Daniel is finishing the school year with A's and B's. His anger is under control and he is on his way to living permanently under his grandmother's guardianship. This was a good school year for Daniel. He found a safe stable home. He is successful in school. For the first time in a long time, he is happy. Thanks to his CASA. Candace made a lifelong difference to Daniel.
As cliche as the saying has become, there is truth in the saying, “it takes a village to raise a child.” Every child, regardless of the origin of their birth or the circumstances of their childhood does need a community of caring, supportive adults to serve as a role model to guide them into successful adulthood. Some children are blessed with large extended families to fulfill this role beyond the nurturing received from their parents. Other parents rely on a collection of friends and neighbors to be the “village” for their child- still loving and caring for that child as if they were blood.
What happens when the village that a child is born into isn’t strong enough to support them long term? When a child’s parents do not have a strong support system to fall back on when needed? Or worse, when a child is abused or neglected to a point that they can’t stay in the family they were born into? Ideally, we’d love to say this is when the village steps in to help and care for the child. In many cases, this can and does happen, however, there are hundreds of children in foster care each year in Passaic County because they did not have a village of caring supportive adults to rely on when home because too unsafe to remain.
Once a child is in foster care, the need for a village grows even more. They are suddenly thrown into a world of caseworkers, attorneys, court hearings, unfamiliar homes, foster parents, separation from siblings, and more. A child needs these people, but also needs someone to help guide them through the chaos, stay with them along the journey and ensure that the child does not get lost in the paperwork. A CASA volunteer is a key member of a child’s village while they are in the foster care system and a person who will accomplish exactly these things. A CASA will ensure that the child does not fall through the gaps of the system, has a voice both in court, at school and in the child welfare system. A CASA volunteer walks alongside the child until a safe, and permanent home—one that ideally comes with a strong supportive village is found again.
This year, can you help join the village of a child in foster care as their CASA volunteer? Click here to take the first step by attending one of our upcoming orientation sessions.