By Erica Fischer-Kaslander, Executive Director
You may have already heard our staff and office has been on the move! We are now located at 415 Hamburg Turnpike, Suite D-2, Wayne, NJ which is accessible off Owens Drive, and facing the Sheriff’s Department.
Over the last 14 months, our staff has doubled in size (to our current size of 11) as we have increased the number of youth we are serving and are on the trajectory towards serving every child in need of an advocate. Although the anticipation of moving is exciting, especially since this move will allow us significant growth towards the number of abused and neglected children we serve, it also brings with it great anxiety and stress, just like any move.
Will it go smoothly? Will we like it? Will the neighbors be nice? Will I like my new space? Will it be comfortable? Will I get lost? Will my stuff get broken on the way there? For weeks I have been weighed down by the responsibility of moving an office of 11 staff, files of hundreds of children and advocates, phones, servers, 13 computers, wiring, classroom and conference technology, security, and countless other items too numerous to recall.
As I carefully packed up my last box of personal items from my office last week, I couldn’t help but think about the obvious comparison between our move and the hundreds of children we work with every day. This is Passaic County CASA's 4th move in 12 years. Many children in foster care make that many moves in just one year.
Recently a young adult who spent a majority of her childhood in foster care said to me, “I never really packed. I just tossed things in a bag or a box. I’ll just be taking it all out and then doing it all over again soon anyway.” While I unrolled my favorite photographs of family and friends that I had carefully wrapped in bubble wrap, I heard her voice echoing in my head. She is why we do what we do every day.
Kids like her deserve a chance to know what it’s like to want to move with bubble wrap. Unfortunately, over 250 Passaic County youth did not have the benefit of an advocate last year. This move is a huge step to close that gap.
We are all just like the children we serve. Moving is traumatic. Regardless if you are an adult or a child, moving is new and unknown. Even for the most prepared, things can go astray. I can tell you that things definitely weren’t as smooth as I would have liked for our office move last weekend, but we survived to talk about it because we were prepared for bumps in the road.
Imagine if you were a child pulled out of their home with no warning or preparation. How would you cope? Children in foster care often are lucky to have a special item they are attached to and that travels with them throughout their journey in the foster care system. Throughout the years, I have seen children with keepsakes as traditional as blankets, journals, and teddy bears and as unique as a lock of their mother’s hair or a broken piece of their childhood bike handle. No matter how many homes they may move to while in foster care or how foreign the situation may feel, these items help them cope by feeling like their familiar “home” has traveled with them.
Our CASA staff members are not any different. After watching my staff pack and move, and seeing the tenderness some items received in the packing process, I realized they had comfort items moving with them too. I saw staff treasuring a special wall hanging, a plaque, family photographs, a diploma, and even a particular desk chair which has traveled from office to office with one staff member for 30 years.
For me, it is the popular blue velvet couch in my office. It is the crashing place for us on good and bad days, the place to celebrate and the place to vent. The couch was an unconscious symbol of achievement when we first got a CASA office large enough to justify a couch. I’ve loved this couch since the day it arrived and all the memories that have surrounded it since then.
Now that we have moved and mostly settled in, I can’t say it feels like home yet and the kinks haven’t all been worked out. As I look across my desk and see a foreign view out the window, I know it’s going to be OK because no matter how long the to-do list may get or how daunting the situation may look today, the blue couch will be there and it feels like home to me.