Spring Lake, NJ
– Over 150 child advocates gathered on Saturday January 30 at The Essex and Sussex in Spring Lake to for the CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) Winter Forum. CASA volunteers, staff, and trustees from every county in New Jersey came to hear inspiring words from the Honorable Glenn A. Grant, Administrative Director of the New Jersey Courts, and from Matthew Schwartz, a former foster youth who credits his CASA volunteer with not only helping him succeed, but saving his life.
While the focus of the day was to begin a statewide plan for growth, CASA also took the opportunity to honor Senate President Sweeney and Senate Republican Budget Director Anthony Bucco with the `I am for the Child’ award. Both legislative leaders were recognized for their long-standing commitment to New Jersey’s children and their strong, consistent support of CASA advocacy across the State of New Jersey. Over the years, the Senate President and Senator Bucco have championed CASA in a variety of ways, including support for budget appropriations and passage of CASA enabling legislation.
CASA of New Jersey empowers a statewide network of county-based CASA organizations that utilize community volunteers to advocate for the best interests of children removed from their homes because of abuse or neglect. CASA operates in every county, with over 1,600 volunteers advocating for nearly 3,500 children across the state last year.
"The CASA network would not be able to serve as many children as we have without the strong partnerships we enjoy with Judge Grant and the Judiciary, as well as with our legislative leaders and our National CASA Organization,” said Rita Gulden, Executive Director of CASA of New Jersey. "The Winter Forum provided our CASA network with an opportunity to both recognize and be inspired by these important partners.”
"CASA relies on strong judicial support, and strong bi-partisan legislative support,” noted Tom Dilts, CASA of New Jersey’s Board President. "It is our deep pleasure to honor both Senate President Sweeney and Senator Bucco for their years of dedication to the organization and the children we serve.”
In accepting the award, the Senate President noted that "There is no higher calling in public service than to work on behalf of children.” He praised the work of CASA volunteers and the staff who support them for working "to rescue children from heartbreaking conditions and helping to restore their dignity and potential.”
Senator Bucco, the first legislator to propose funding for CASA in the State Budget back in 2002, recognized that "No government entity or agency can ever provide the care, advocacy, commitment and oversight that CASA volunteers and staff do every day for our youth.” He further noted that "This remarkable network is a model for public-private partnerships, helping the state to better protect abused and neglected children, reducing public costs and enriching our society as a whole for generations to come.”
The highlight of the day for many attendees was hearing the words of inspiration and motivation provided by Judge Grant. He recognized the importance of CASA’s work in the lives of children and youth, but also underscored the importance of CASA’s advocacy to the judges who are making life-altering decisions on behalf of these children. He recalled his own time on the bench hearing these cases and the reliance he placed on the CASA volunteer’s recommendations.