Seven volunteers train, take oath as advocates for foster youth in Union County

ELIZABETH, NJ — The most recent class of community members — seven volunteers representing six municipalities — have completed 30 hours of training to become advocates for CASA of Union County, a nonprofit organization advocating for the best interests of children in foster care.

Sworn in as judiciary volunteers by Superior Court Judge James Hely via Zoom with newly named Judge Stacey Boretz looking on were Phil Newcomb, of Cranford; Jason Fermin, of Linden; Juliann Ford, of Roselle Park; Jayme Lipkin and Neetu Salhotra, of Short Hills; Amanda O’Dowd, of Summit; and Dawn Saunders, of Warren.

Next, the new advocates will be matched to a foster youth or sibling set and, once legally assigned to their case by court order, can make arrangements to meet their assigned youth and begin their casework. This class ranges in age from 34 to 63 and includes both parents and nonparents, and those employed as well as retired. Experience includes teaching, law enforcement and homemaking.

“It’s such a wonderful moment when these dedicated individuals, who have made the decision to become Court Appointed Special Advocates, face the judge as they did today, as the culmination of weeks of intensive training,” CASA of Union County Executive Director Mariel S. Hufnagel said. “Being a CASA volunteer is a tremendous commitment and, as these individuals raised their hand and took their oaths, the pride and joy was palpable.”

“I have volunteered my entire life and found my CASA work most rewarding because, although my CASA youth has aged out of the system, our friendship will be forever,” CASA board member Terry Gould, who serves as the advocate liaison, said. “It brings me great pleasure to see him beat the odds. He is a survivor. These new advocates are ready to hit the ground running and I am beyond excited for them and the adventure ahead!”

Since 2005, CASA of Union County has served more than 900 local foster youth and trained more than 600 advocates. With court-ordered access to the youth, foster parents, doctors, caseworkers, therapists, teachers and others, advocates identify concerns and unmet needs, and ensure best interests are protected.

There are still youth in need of their own CASA volunteer. For details on the advocate experience and the steps to secure a spot in an upcoming training class, reach out to info@casaofunioncounty.org.

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