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Check out CASA's newest volunteers!

Last week, eleven people (a few were camera shy) completed the CASA volunteer training. Next up, they will be sworn in by the family court judge, and then Passaic County children in foster care will officially have 11 new advocates.

Congrats, everyone!

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Announcing...October's Volunteer of the Month: Marion Brady

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Marion Brady of Little Falls retired in 2011 and then almost immediately took on a CASA case, though her initial plan was to relax and enjoy retirement for a while. Her first ever experience as a CASA volunteer would be advocating for an 18-year-old boy.

Marion found about the CASA program through a friend, who was briefly a CASA, or Court Appointed Special Advocate, in neighboring Essex County. When Marion heard about the unique volunteer opportunity, she was very interested.

“I thought, this would be a great thing to do as soon as I retire.”

Born and raised in Baltimore, Marion traveled up the East Coast to Harvard for college, and then received an advanced degree in medieval history and literature from the University of Toronto. She worked at an education house at Harvard before moving to New York City to become an editor. When Marion and her husband decided to move out of the city, their realtor showed them a lovely Victorian house in a small town they had never heard of called Little Falls.

Right after she had moved the last box into her new suburban home, a headline in the New York Times caught Marion’s attention: “Slow pace marks life in Little Falls.”

Forty years later, Marion and her husband still live in that Victorian house, and have made Little Falls a real home.

Marion has been a CASA advocate for six of those forty years. During that time, she has advocated for 17 children of all ages—from her first CASA case involving the 18-year-old boy to one of her current cases, which involves a newborn girl who was placed in foster care at four days old.

“Cute as a button,” Marion said.

Most of Marion’s responsibilities with the newborn involve working with the foster/resource parent and ensuring the baby’s needs are met. But some of her other cases have been much more complicated, often involving special medical and educational needs. Luckily, Marion’s favorite aspect of being a CASA is advocating for children through the education system.

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“Sometimes you really have to fight to get the educational things ironed out,” Marion said.

Marion loves going to back to school nights—“Teachers are happy someone goes,” she said.

Marion develops trust with her CASA children through maintaining regular visits, coordinating with resource parents, and just spending time with the children.

“I’ve played some really cut-throat games of gin rummy with these kids,” Marion said.

The most rewarding part of being a CASA for Marion, however, is when the adoptions go through.

“And a number of them have,” Marion said.

“You go to the adoption ceremony and it’s just wonderful.”

Outside of being a CASA advocate, Marion is a familiar face at Our Lady of the Holy Angels in Little Falls, where she is a lector and an Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist to the homebound elderly. She’s also a costume designer and seamstress who has outfitted theatrical performers at the Nutley Little Theatre and East Lynne Theater Company in Cape May.

CASA celebrates 10 years at "Voices for Children" gala

More than 165 people celebrated ten years of making a difference at the Passaic County CASA “Voices for Children Gala” on Friday, Oct. 13, at Preakness Hills Country Club in Wayne. Passaic County CASA, which is based in Wayne, is the only organization in Passaic County that trains and supervises volunteer advocates to speak up for children who have been removed from home due to abuse or neglect.

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"The Voices for Children Gala was a wonderful evening of delicious food and great music, just a perfect celebration of our 10th anniversary,” Executive Director Erica Fischer-Kaslander said. “But most importantly, we raised more than $105,000, which is enough to sponsor 54 children in foster care next year. That's 54 fewer children on our waiting list, 54 children who will now have the benefit of an advocate to ensure they don't get lost in an overburdened child welfare system."

The evening included music by New Jersey favorite band Daddy Pop, an inspirational video, and a photo booth. The undeniable star of the night, however, was Tommy Williams, a former foster and CASA child from Passaic County. Williams was born to a drug addicted mother and spent the first eight years of his life being shuffled around the foster care system. He struggled with some hearing issues, and was able to communicate very little.

A permanent home did not seem to be in the cards for Williams, until CASA volunteer Ann Rose was assigned to his case. During the four years that Rose advocated for Williams, she found him the perfect forever home. Williams is now thriving with his new family – he even gave a brief speech at the gala.

CASA volunteer Ann Rose, Tommy Williams, his mother Martha, and other family members at the Voices for Children Gala.

CASA volunteer Ann Rose, Tommy Williams, his mother Martha, and other family members at the Voices for Children Gala.

“I am happy now! Thank you to CASA,” Williams said, while standing at the podium with Rose and his mother, Martha.

Since 2007,  CASA has grown in leaps and bounds.  Ten years ago, CASA had one employee who worked out of a single cubicle in Paterson. Today, CASA is housed in a 2,500 square foot office space and boasts eight staff members and 75 trained volunteers. During the past 10 years, CASA advocates supported 575 children in the Passaic County foster care system.

To view more photos from the gala, click here