Choosing a Voices for Children Honoree for Passaic County CASA’s 2018 Voices for Children Gala was an easy decision for Executive Director Erica Fischer-Kaslander and the members of the Passaic County CASA Board of Trustees.
“Andrea epitomizes the dedication and selflessness we look for in our CASA volunteer advocates,” Erica explains. “Through nine years, seven cases, and advocating for twenty children, Andrea has seemingly seen and done it all, and has clearly gone above and beyond any typical volunteer commitment. It’s great to have a chance to thank Andrea for everything she has done for CASA and all the children she’s advocated for.”
Anyone who has spent any time at all at the CASA Office at 415 Hamburg Turnpike has seen Andrea coming and going, often carrying Tricky Tray supplies or donations. New staff members and interns are introduced to Andrea as an “unpaid staff member.” With her infectious laughter, easy warmth, and a funny anecdote always ready to share, Andrea is an invaluable part of Passaic County CASA.
This Paterson native recalls growing up “in not a good area” where violence and drugs were commonplace. Thankfully, Andrea had a large, close-knit family to rely upon, who she credits with keeping her focused, working hard, and safe from the dangers around her. She eventually left Paterson in 1978 for a home in the suburbs of Morris County, where she raised a family of her own and had a successful career in pharmaceuticals, information systems, and real estate.
Fast-forward to 2009. Andrea decided the time was right to begin fulfilling a long-held desire to give back to people in and around her hometown of Paterson and throughout Passaic County. Andrea recalls seeing the opportunity to volunteer with CASA listed on Craigslist while she was helping her son search for an apartment. She says she never knew anyone in foster care, but she liked working with kids and felt like the volunteer description was something she could do. “I was voted most talkative in my high school class,” she explains, “and I always had strong opinions and wasn’t afraid to speak up.” She felt particularly compelled to work with children from urban areas, saying, “I can relate to these kids.”
After serving as an advocate for twenty children, Andrea has become a wealth of information about the foster care system and the challenges children and their families sometimes face. But like all volunteers, when she first started, she faced a steep learning curve. From understanding the court process to the alphabet soup of acronyms involved in child welfare and navigating the resources available to them, Andrea applied good old common sense to unfamiliar situations and didn’t back down when times were tough. She believes that “being a CASA is why God gave her the gift of gab.”
In addition to being unafraid to speak her mind, Andrea is the kind of person who sees what needs to be done and just does it. One time, that even meant drawing upon her skills in the kitchen. Andrea’s CASA children had recently moved to New Jersey from Somalia with their parents, and after some allegations of parental neglect, the children ended up in foster care, where they developed a taste for American food. When the family was set to be reunited, the mother wanted to learn how to make some of the American food their children had learned to enjoy, like hot dogs, macaroni and cheese, and spaghetti. So Andrea, while freely acknowledging she’s no chef, volunteered to help the mom learn how to cook these basics. Clearly Andrea is willing to go the extra mile for the children she advocates for.
Another example of going the extra mile comes around every June, although for Andrea the work begins months beforehand. Under Andrea’s leadership, Passaic County CASA’s annual Tricky Tray fundraiser has grown into a massive event involving the coordination of an army of volunteers and countless hours of work. Only someone like Andrea could muster such support from so many people, businesses, and organizations in the name of children in foster care. Her warmth and passion for helping children is infectious, inspiring those around her to pitch in whatever they can.
For these reasons and many others, it seemed like high-time to recognize Andrea for everything she’s done over the past nine years for Passaic County CASA and children in foster care. Andrea is proof that one person truly can make a difference, and that we all have unique gifts to offer up for a good cause. We are honored to thank such a dear supporter and friend with our Voices for Children Award.