WILKES-BARRE — More than a dozen Luzerne County residents took the final steps in answering a call to help out kids in the county’s foster care system on Monday, providing a service which is sorely needed, according to the organization’s director.
The latest members of the county’s Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA, were sworn in at a ceremony at the Bernard C. Brominski Building in Wilkes-Barre.
CASA aims to link county children in foster care up with a volunteer advocate whose main mission is to advocate for them through the legal process, with the eventual goal of getting them into a permanent home as soon as possible.
Gathering in one of the building’s courtrooms, 14 new members swore to do just that.
After leading them in their oath, Luzerne County Judge Jennifer L. Rogers spoke briefly about the importance of their roles.
Saying that her father is a model railroad enthusiast, Rogers joked that she heard a lot of rail-themed metaphors in her life, and that one seemed apt for the day.
“We are all in our own car on the train of life,” Rogers said, saying that other cars get added and taken off the track as people serve purposes in our lives. But for the latest CASA volunteers, they’re more than just passengers.
“You’re the VIP passengers on the train of life of these child passengers,” Rogers said. “You’re also their travel agent, porter, bag packer, bag unpacker.”
Rogers said that she’s glad the volunteers pushed down whatever fears they may have had about becoming a part of CASA and instead listened to “whatever voice in (their) heart” that pushed them to join.
CASA’s advocate coordinator, Annie Ellis, also spoke briefly, noting the importance of the new volunteers and the work they’ll be doing.
“There’s a child out there you have not met yet that sorely needs you,” she told the new advocates.
Ellis, who noted she appreciates the organization’s acronym due to its similarity for the Spanish word for home, reminded the volunteers the importance of getting children into one of those homes.
“It really does take a village,” she said.
After the swearing-in ceremony, CASA’s executive director, John Aciukewicz, said how important these 14 new volunteers will be.
According to Aciukewicz, CASA has a goal they’re calling “90 in 20,” by which they plan to bring on 90 new advocates by the end of 2020. Their goal is to bring on 15 new advocates after each training session, with two sessions each in 2018, 2019 and 2020.
Aciukewicz said more advocates are always needed, as they work nearly on a one-on-one basis with foster kids.
One of the new advocates is Phyllis Mundy, former member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.
Mundy said she’s been on the board of CASA for some time and has been very supportive of their cause and decided it was time to help out herself.
“When another training came up and now that I’m retired, I decided it was a good opportunity to put my money where my mouth is and try to make a difference in the life of a child,” she said.
Mundy, like Aciukewicz, stressed the importance of a new class of volunteers. Aciukewicz said the next training session begins in October. Those who are interested in volunteering can find more information at luzernecasa.org.
In addition to Mundy, the latest advocates include Amy Anstett, Pam Coburn, Heather Critchosin, Anita Frank, Shannon Hurley, Tish McCarthy Last, Jen Leung, Amy Martin, Karen Mazzaccaro, Donna Nelson, Tracey Selingo, Juliane von Schmeling and Carol Wills.
Reach Patrick Kernan at 570-991-6386 or on Twitter @PatKernan