CASA Conversations

Giving Back Behind the Scenes

By Janice Erzmoneit, President Emeritus, Board of Directors

Helping Passaic County CASA move closer to its goal of advocating for every abused and neglected child in Passaic County has given me more than I can ever give back. 

As I went from college to one of the largest CPA firms in the world, through jobs with various industries and organizations, and in becoming a parent in today’s world, I gained insight into communities, cultures, lifestyles, values, that are different from those in which I was raised.  I also learned that life shows itself in ways small and large.

A colleague of mine, a woman of color, was issued a ticket because her headlight was out, even though she had a new bulb in her car and was headed home so that her teen-age son could help her replace it.

A warehouse worker couldn’t pay her rent when the payroll direct deposit hit her account a day later than she expected, and overdraft fees ate up much of her paycheck as her rent check bounced several times.

A retail worker lost her job when her car broke down and she did not have enough money to fix it.

A fellow professional who observes religious dietary restrictions did not share them when we were choosing a place to eat because she felt it would negatively impact her chances for advancement, so she had nothing but iced tea at a celebratory lunch.

My son’s charges for a moving violation in his early days of driving were reduced because he came to court with two parents who would guide him, while the prosecutor threw the book at the young Hispanic teen who showed up by himself.

I wanted to give back.  Passaic County CASA was a fledgling nonprofit organization looking for financial expertise to round out their Board of Directors.   Its mission, to give every abused or neglected child in Passaic County a safe and permanent home and chance for a happy and productive life, was one that I could understand and support.  So I joined the Board.

As a Board member, I help build and sustain the foundation from which our volunteers can serve each child. Effectively translating the mission and vision of CASA, we on the Board ensure that there is a strong structure to support the staff and volunteers, provide strategic guidance and direction to their work, and responsibly conduct public affairs and manage public resources as good governance requires.  Resources are balanced against the constantly changing demands of the environment.  The optimal course to meet the mission now and into the future is discussed, debated, and agreed.  And then we do the job of translating that strategy and planning into policies, procedures, and budgets that will both protect the organization and allow the staff and volunteers to flexibly and effectively serve the children who need us.

Giving back does not describe my experience. Aside from impacting the lives of children from behind the scenes,  I have met so many amazing people who work every day to change the lives of children who don’t have the opportunities that so many of us take for granted. I am grateful to be inspired by these amazing people, from all walks of life, who do what they can to make a real difference for children working towards achieving a healthy, productive adulthood.

A safe home, trustworthy care and supervision, stable relationships, decent educational opportunities, appropriate healthcare, a consistent adult presence in their lives, a chance to be a kid and find their best selves in a nurturing environment, all these so many of us take for granted and are not always there for kids who are neglected, abused, and removed from their homes and their parents. The stories I hear from CASA volunteers bring tears to my eyes, tears of sadness, tears of gratefulness, tears that well from the reminder of life’s unfairness.

A girl is suspended from school for being late (no one realizes the reason is that she is driving her younger sister to a different school first).

An older sister, who has cared for her brother because their mother does not, is separated from him in foster care and no one realizes the distress that the depth of her concern and worry for him causes.

A teen-age boy cannot apply for a job or financial aid to go to school because he does not know his social security number.

Holidays, birthdays, graduations roll by without celebration.

CASA volunteers notice all of this, try to make things right, make recommendations for next steps that are in the child’s best interest, until the child finds a safe and nurturing home and family to help them grow and mature.  CASA volunteers are real life heroes.

Thank you, Passaic County CASA, for helping me use my personal talents, my expertise, and my communities to help bring equity and fairness into the lives of the most vulnerable, for helping me give them a voice.