CASA Conversations

The Children’s Books That Shaped and Inspired Us

Did you know that August 9 is National Book Lover’s Day? Here at Passaic County CASA, we’re big book lovers. To help celebrate the day, staff were asked to share the children’s books that left a lasting impact.

Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume. Like many 9-12 year old girls who read this book, I felt like Judy Blume was in my head. How could it be that I wasn’t alone in these feelings? She made it clear that we were in this puberty thing together, and for that I will be eternally grateful. I can’t wait to give it to my daughter, who already loves Judy Blume because of the Fudge series.

- Sarah During, Case Supervisor

All of Shel Silverstein's poetry collections: Where the Sidewalk Ends, Falling Up, A Light in the Attic, etc. I remember third-grade Jess gasping and giggling at some of his poems and drawings, and then moments later, deeply pondering some of the others. Silverstein had a gift for the absurd, but also, somehow, he managed to simultaneously inspire hope and motivation. One of my favorite poems as a child (and truthfully, to this day) is called “Woulda-Coulda-Shoulda.” Check it out!

- Jessica Mickley, Director of Training and Outreach

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White is one of my all-time favorite books, period. I loved the courage Fern showed to stand up for a vulnerable animal when no one else would. I loved the friendship story between Wilbur and Charlotte and the difference one person (or, um, spider) could make for another. Sadly, the book also taught me how unfair and cruel the world can be, especially toward the weak and vulnerable. After reading this book, I never looked at any animal or insect the same way again.

- Laura Warne, Communications Coordinator

Not exactly academic or inspiring but The Monster at the End of this Book, Starring Lovable Furry Old Grover by Jon Stone is definitely my favorite. My dad read this book to us growing up with great animated voices for each character and made it a favorite we demanded repeatedly. It's now a regular on my boy's nightly reading list, although I don't imitate the voices nearly as well. The moral of the story is to always keep pushing through; don't be afraid because often the only thing holding you back is yourself. You can listen to the story at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_JVK0-4HQTY

- Erica Fischer-Kaslander, Executive Director

Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney is a great picture book. In it, a baby hare and his father try to outdo each other in expressing their love for one another. The ending of the book is often quoted: "I love you to the moon and back."

For slightly older children, James and the Giant Peach by James Dahl is a favorite. James is orphaned as a boy, but with some lucky magic, he travels the world in a giant peach, befriended by giant bugs who become his surrogate family. It's both sweet and funny.

- Michelle Schaefer, Strategy And Reporting Manager

My favorite children's book is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. I loved reading about the main character, Francie Nolan, and how she overcame all of the obstacles in her life to make something of herself.

- Gina Cetta, Program Director

We did it! An Update on CASA's Matching Gift Challenge

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Thanks to all of our volunteers, ambassadors, board members, staff, donors, supporters (we could go on), Passaic County CASA met its match!

During the “An Advocate for Every Child” campaign, we raised enough funds to secure a $100,000 matching gift, which will support the recruitment, training, and supervision of additional Court Appointed Special Advocates.

What does this mean for Passaic County CASA? It means that as a result of the “An Advocate for Every Child” campaign and this generous match, we are closer than ever to bringing the name of the campaign to life. For the first time, providing an advocate to every child in the Passaic County foster care system is well within our reach.

Last month, Pamela and Craig Goldman (of the Pamela and Craig Goldman Charitable Foundation) stopped by the CASA office to present Executive Director Erica Fischer-Kaslander with the $100,000 check. During the visit, the pair explained the value of supporting CASA.

“Passaic County CASA does a great job for the children who really need it,” Pamela Goldman said.

Craig Goldman echoed his wife’s sentiment, adding “If you’ve done well, you have an obligation to give back.”.

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He went on to say, “CASA’s work will change the lives of many children and help ensure their success in the future.”

In fiscal year 2019, CASA experienced unprecedented growth. We ended the year with 133 Court Appointed Special Advocate volunteers, the highest number since CASA was founded in 2007. With these additional volunteers, CASA was able to serve 272 children in foster care, a nine percent increase from the previous year.

“Through the support of Pamela and Craig Goldman and all of our donors, CASA is poised for another banner year in fiscal year 2020,” Fischer-Kaslander said. “It is the commitment of our entire organization that each child victim of abuse and neglect will have the benefit of personal advocacy in order to reach a safe and permanent home. We are thrilled to be closer than ever to this goal!”

Six volunteers become official Court Appointed Special Advocates

In the past month, Passaic County CASA welcomed six new Court Appointed Special Advocate volunteers to the program. These new CASAs are already assigned to cases and are working diligently to advocate for their CASA child/children. Congrats to these amazing individuals and welcome to the CASA family!

Lori Fasulo and Tracie Gonzalez take an oath to advocate on behalf of children in foster care.

Lori Fasulo and Tracie Gonzalez take an oath to advocate on behalf of children in foster care.

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Joanne Carbone, Marylin Gonzalez, LaChea DeSouza, and Laurie Phipps stand with Judge Freid after the swearing-in ceremony.

Joanne Carbone, Marylin Gonzalez, LaChea DeSouza, and Laurie Phipps stand with Judge Freid after the swearing-in ceremony.

Helping Children in Foster Care Experience a Normal and Healthy Summer

By Michelle Schaefer, Strategy And Reporting Manager

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As school ends, and the hot days of summer begin, most children across New Jersey are looking forward to the summer months as they anticipate family vacations, beach days, sleepovers, and time spent with friends and family. For children in foster care, however, the summer season can look starkly different.

Sadly, children in foster care often end up shuffled from one foster home to another for “respite care” while their assigned foster parents are away on vacation. That means packing a bag and once again moving to a home full of strangers, feeling lost in unfamiliar surroundings, and sleeping in a strange bed.

Kids in foster care are often placed in foster homes quite distant from their home neighborhoods. Federal and state legislation strives to provide these children with educational stability through their time in foster care, mandating that they attend school in their home district whenever feasible. Throughout the school year, that can mean long bus rides to their home school district from out-of-district foster homes. When school ends for the summer, though, these children find themselves isolated, living far away from their school friends and the social circles of their classroom peers. Friends may be too far away for get-togethers to be easily or frequently arranged. Thus, foster children are more likely to miss out on the fun, carefree time with friends that most of our children take for granted each summer.

In order to supervise children in foster care, adult caregivers must undergo background checks by the Division of Child Protection & Permanency - a requirement to ensure the safety of these children. However, the bureaucracy necessitated by this requirement means invitations to sleepovers at the homes of friends must often be declined.

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Further, children in foster care who require educational support may find their educational needs overlooked during the summer, as teachers and school staff are not available to focus on their academics. That means educational decline that may leave them even further behind when school resumes in September.

But Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs) can help their CASA children navigate these summer challenges…

CASAs watch over their children, no matter where the children are placed and no matter the month of the year. When a child is temporarily placed in a respite home, his or her CASA may be the only familiar face to come and visit during that time. As a familiar face, that CASA may be able to speak up for a shy child or calm down an upset child offering respite foster parents ideas for how to make the child more comfortable and at ease during respite care –what foods they prefer, bedtime routines, likes and dislikes, etc.

CASAs work with caseworkers and foster parents to identify summer camps for the children to attend, helping ensure that these children have positive experiences during the summer and build important social skills. When needed, CASAs advocate for tutoring to be implemented during summer months, helping their CASA children to receive the support they need to thrive academically when the new school year begins.

Kicking off Passaic County CASA's 2019 School Supply Drive!

It’s that time again! Help us ensure that area children in foster care have what they need to start the school year off on the right foot.

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Children in foster care can’t count on going back-to-school shopping with mom or dad. In some cases, children will start the school year at a completely unfamiliar school because they may have moved foster homes. All of them need school supplies to make the transition into the new year just a little bit easier. Having what they need is a confidence boost and can also help them fit in with their peers.

NEW items of particular need are:

backpacks
lunchboxes
calculators
composition books
3-subject notebooks
3-ring binders
dividers, folders
pencils, pens
highlighters
markers, crayons
rulers, protractors
index cards, post-its
glue, tape, staplers
white-out
combination locks
loose-leaf paper
pencil cases
pocket dictionaries/thesaurus

All school supply donations may be dropped off at the Passaic County CASA office, located at 415 Hamburg Turnpike, Suite D2 (off Owens Drive), in Wayne.

Businesses and organizations are also welcome to organize collection drives of their own!

The deadline for all donations is Wednesday, August 14. For more information contact Pam Saunders at 973-832-4002 or pam@passaiccountycasa.org.