CASA of Union County salutes its volunteer child advocates at barbecue

Among the CASA volunteers attending the barbecue are, from left, James Walker Jr. of Elizabeth, Isabella Blumberg of Springfield, Barbara Bagger of Westfield, Arlene Sumner of Linden, Carmen Iyala of Scotch Plains, Quetzali Sevillano of Rahway, Lara Gibbemeyer and Robert Bridgeman of Westfield, Flor Maria Mendez of Elizabeth, Mollie Yang of Mountainside, Fernando Porras of Clark, Katherine Romano of New Providence, Shelley Grobe of Cranford, Kristen Kim of Westfield, Rebecca Muston of Summit, Teresa Lastella of Clark, Kevin JeanCharles of Roselle, Donna Isidron of Clark, Karime Herrera of Elizabeth, Komal Nankani of Summit, Lisa Kalichman of South Orange, Sean O’Leary of South Plainfield, Carolyn Colonna of Fanwood, Cynthia Evans of Scotch Plains, and Lydia Pernia of Linden.

UNION COUNTY, NJ — Court Appointed Special Advocates of Union County, the only local nonprofit advocating for youths from birth to age 21 involved in the child welfare system due to abuse, neglect and abandonment, took time out recently to fete its child advocates, who ensure that the best interests of Union County’s most vulnerable youths are protected and their needs are met.

Seeley’s Pond picnic area in Watchung Reservation was host to a guest list that included the organization’s nearly 170 current volunteer advocates and their families and dogs, its funders and court personnel with whom the organization regularly works as cases are heard by Union County Superior Court. CASA staff and several members of the board of trustees served guests ribs, pulled pork, hot dogs, burgers, sides and dessert. Executive Director Mariel S. Hufnagel’s husband, Anthony, was grill master.

Amid the food, conversation, and even cornhole and Kan Jam competitions, CASA volunteers and staff still managed to make time for advocacy work. Each year, as the summer draws to a close, the organization runs a school supply drive, to ensure that every foster youth served has a new backpack full of needed supplies, so the first day of school feels full of promise. The park’s pavilion became a backpack depot, where each advocate checked in to secure their foster youth’s backpack, lunch box and supplies.

Anne Collart, president of the board of trustees, was among those welcoming advocates. “It was a gorgeous day and the perfect setting for CASA of Union County to give its time for all those who gift their time for local foster youth and keep the organization moving forward in its mission. Today, we wanted to be in their corner and encourage each advocate to relax, connect and enjoy our gratitude for all they do.”

Since 2005, the nonprofit has recruited, trained, supported and supervised nearly 600 volunteers to advocate for more than 900 youths, protecting best interests in the courtroom, classroom and community, and helping ensure that already experienced trauma is not exacerbated as youths await permanency in a safe and loving home. For details on the advocate experience and joining upcoming information and training sessions, email Lucia Field at