California CASA, the private, nonprofit organization connecting the 44 local Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) programs throughout the state of California, is honored that Senator Josh Newman (CA Senate District 29) put forth the senate resolution SCR 106, declaring May 2, 2022, as CASA Appreciation Day in California. This is an opportunity for state and local government, California CASA, local CASA programs, other community organizations, and the public to honor and thank the dedicated CASA volunteers who ensure children and youth in the foster care system have their voices heard every day. Along with the May 2nd proclamation, the entire month of May will be full of activities at local CASA programs to thank their volunteers and highlight the impact that they are making in the lives of the children they advocate for. All Californians are invited to find out more about the critical role a CASA volunteer plays in the lives of young people and hopefully become inspired to contribute their time and resources to support children in foster care. Throughout California, there are nearly 10,000 volunteer CASAs providing court advocacy and dedicated support to 12,947 foster children and youth.  

To recognize the dedication and resilience of volunteer court advocates nationwide, the California State Legislature passed SCR 106, introduced by State Senator Josh Newman (who represents portions of Los Angeles, Orange, and San Bernardino Counties).  

The bill text reads:

Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 106—Relative to CASA Appreciation Day.

WHEREAS, All children have the right to a home with loving
people to care for them, but each year in the United States,
hundreds of thousands of children are abused, neglected, or
abandoned by their families. These children are removed from
their homes, placed in foster care or institutions, and eventually
may end up as wards of the court; and
WHEREAS, A judge has the power to decide the future for
these children and whether they should remain in foster care, be
reunited with parents, or adopted, but in many cases, the children
become victims for a second time, lost in an overburdened child
welfare system that cannot pay close attention to each child; and
WHEREAS, CASA Appreciation Day recognizes the important
role played by Court Appointed Special Advocate for children
(CASA) volunteers. These trained community volunteers are
appointed by a judge as officers of the court to speak up for
children in juvenile court and to help humanize for these children
the often frightening and confusing child welfare and legal systems;
WHEREAS, Approximately 80,000 of California’s children are
living in foster care because they have been abused, neglected, or
abandoned. In 2021, 10,105 CASA volunteers supported 12,947
foster children in California. These CASA volunteers play an
important role in their lives by getting to know each child and
letting the judge and others in the child welfare system understand
the child’s perspective and needs; and
WHEREAS, The CASA mission is to ensure consistency and
support for children in the foster care system through the use of
volunteer advocates advancing the best interests of each child; and
WHEREAS, The CASA vision is one where every Californian
child in need is appointed a CASA volunteer to champion that
child without compromise, in court, in school, and in the
community, putting them on the path to a safe and permanent
home; now, therefore, be it
Resolved by the Senate of the State of California, the Assembly
hereof concurring,
That the Legislature hereby declares that May
2, 2022, is recognized as CASA Appreciation Day in California;
and be it further
Resolved, That the Secretary of the Senate transmit copies of
this resolution to the author for appropriate distribution.

Advocate Spotlight - Aldo Benalcazar

Aldo Benalcazar has a degree from UCLA, a masters in social work from USC, and has worked as a licensed clinical social worker for several years at the LA County Department of Mental Health. Yet he still had an “aha moment” when going through his training to become a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA). 

According to Aldo, one training session in particular stood out. ”We were each given a hypothetical budget of $200 and instructed to make it last for one week. After deducting money for essentials like groceries, rent and clothing, we were left with practically nothing.” Aldo added, “There are so many factors that go into why a youth is removed from their home but many of these families are under tremendous financial pressure. That exercise was really eye opening.”  

Born in Ecuador, Aldo moved to the U.S. when he was only four years old. He attended an all-boys Catholic high school before moving on to college and post-graduate work. He began working with children and adolescents at the LA Department of Mental Health then, after six years, moved into a more administrative role working with social workers and the family preservation program to ensure children and their parents are properly linked to mental health services. “For children to thrive and succeed, we have to do what we can to ensure their parents are thriving and succeeding,” said Aldo. 

A co-worker told him about CASA and suggested he’d be a good advocate. It took a few years for things to fall into place, but Aldo knew he really loved working with kids and their families. “I knew CASA was a great organization and a good fit with my work and interests. I liked being able to develop a closer mentor relationship with a child than the boundaries of my job allowed, like taking a youth to a job fair or getting a bite to eat at McDonalds.” 

Aldo went through the extensive training provided by CASA before being sworn-in in February, 2017. “My training as a social worker helped prepare me for this role. It helped in building rapport with my youth, in labeling emotions and in knowing how to provide a safe space. But I remind myself that my role is not to be a therapist. My most important job is just being present for my kiddo.”

According to Aldo, the training experience was very comprehensive. “I really liked that the average person who doesn’t have professional experience dealing with foster youth would still have a sense of the hardships they often face. Advocates are given a snapshot of what youth often go through in the foster care system.”

Following his training and swearing-in, Aldo was matched with an eleven year old youth named *Samuel. For the past five years, the two have remained together despite transitions in schools, teachers and social workers. Aldo says, “my youth had the peace of mind knowing that I would follow him through any potential placement changes.” Samuel is now 16 and a junior in high school.

Aldo describes his youth as bright, pleasant and respectful but says he struggles academically since he often doesn’t complete his work. As his CASA, Aldo was able to initiate an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for Samuel while he was still in middle school and would often check in with the school to follow up. Samuel’s IEP transferred to high school and Aldo says he’s encouraged to see his kiddo becoming more future-oriented. “He understands this is his last chance to pick up credits to graduate with his peers. We’re working together on a plan to make that happen. He’s very motivated.”

During their time together, Aldo finds ways to praise Samuel and frequently reminds him of his strengths. Although Samuel doesn’t always verbally respond, Aldo knows he absorbs the messages when he hears Aldo tell him, “you have what it takes, I believe in you, you can do this!” Aldo says, “As he was entering adolescence, there was a time he didn’t want to talk about his feelings or a rough day at school. I learned that when I’m with him, it’s enough to just be present. We don’t always have to talk about how he’s feeling and how things can be resolved.” Aldo adds with a laugh, “Once he hit 14, he was back to talking about anything and everything.”

During his five years with CASA, Aldo says he has always felt very supported by his case supervisors. He has had two during his time and they have attended meetings at the school with him as well as meetings with Samuel’s foster parent when needed. Aldo says, “my supervisor Jennifer Kordek is always asking what CASA can do to better support me. She is very attentive and resourceful. We problem-solve and brainstorm together, right now mostly about Samuel’s academics. She always follows up with me to see how things are going.”

Jennifer described Aldo as a crucial part of his youth’s team. “Aldo has helped Samuel mature a great deal. Aldo encourages him to really think about his future which has resulted in improving his grades in school, researching colleges and getting a job. This is a HUGE turnaround from a year ago and demonstrates how beneficial it is for a young male to have a positive male mentor in his life. Aldo is consistent, follows through, leads by example, takes initiative, and has a strong work ethic. I am beyond grateful for all that he has done and continues to do.”

When asked what he’s learned during his time as a CASA, Aldo says, “My kiddo has taught me a lot and helped me grow in many ways. He has taught me how to be patient, how to be resilient and how to interact with a teenager. We’re there for our youth but there is a way in which our youth help us.”  Aldo adds, “My experience with CASA has taught me that the human connection is very, very important. It can be life-changing. I’m used to being a “fixer” but can’t always do that - not everything needs to be fixed.

Aldo says he will continue to volunteer as a CASA as long as his youth wants him to be in his life. “I want him to be empowered to choose how long to maintain the relationship,” said Aldo. “I have been creating a scrapbook for him with pictures from our outings and various CASA events. I am doing this so he has a way of remembering not just our experiences together, but the things and people he met along the way.” 

Aldo closes by saying, “CASA is an organization I’ve really grown to love. I definitely believe in the mission. Everyone on the CASA team is amazing and does a good job of making me feel valued, heard and supported. It’s been an amazing journey which I will continue as long as I am able.”

*Name changed to preserve privacy

Judge Craig Arthur Spotlight

Judge Craig Arthur

Juvenile Presiding Judge Craig Arthur is a very busy man. His days are filled with the many responsibilities as Presiding Judge of the Juvenile Court. They range from ordinary courtroom scheduling issues to complex statewide task forces that address issues involving youth in the judicial system. He chairs a wide variety of committees, participates in stakeholder meetings, and teaches classes for new judicial officers. Despite his very busy schedule, Judge Arthur still maintains a weekly Teen Court (formerly known as Boys Court and Girls Court) calendar on Fridays. 

The juvenile court system deals with two distinctly different types of cases.  Dependency cases involve situations where youth are subjected to abuse, neglect, or abandonment within the home.  Juvenile justice cases (previously referred to as delinquency cases), deal with youth who are accused of committing a crime.

As Juvenile Presiding Judge, Judge Arthur is responsible for all aspects of juvenile court.  This includes operations, overseeing judicial officers, assigning cases, and ensuring staff are representing the court values. According to Judge Arthur, there is a tremendous amount of behind-the-scenes work that goes into keeping the court running smoothly. 

Fridays are dedicated to Teen Court which hears the same kinds of cases as a regular juvenile court calendar. “These are our most vulnerable population of teens who don't have family support or relatives in the area. They are at risk of becoming under ‘dual-jurisdiction' which means they crossover into both dependency and delinquency courts,”  Judge Arthur stated. “We deal largely with issues related to placement of children. If there is a juvenile justice case where a youth is charged with a criminal offense, we may be dealing with probation violations and sentencing issues.” There is often overlap between dependency and juvenile justice as many children who are removed from abusive home environments, develop mental health issues or substance use disorders, that can lead them into the juvenile justice court system. 

According to Judge Arthur, “We see kids much more frequently in Teen Court than in a traditional court calendar so we can wrap them in services, have a hands-on relationship, and walk them through the very difficult issues they confront. We have some really great successes with the program.” He added, “CASA plays a HUGE role in our Teen Court cases. They participate in our morning staffing meeting with all team members including the judge, attorneys, social worker, probation officer, and mental health professionals. CASAs play an integral role in these staffing meetings and provide insight to the team since they have such hands-on experience with the youth.”

“When I read a CASA report, it’s more personal and in tune with the youth. It gives me a different perspective than a social worker’s report, which contains specific required information. I may not get the in-depth look that comes in a CASA’s report.” He shared the story of a CASA report he read a few years ago, “The CASA told me about her youth, a teenage girl, who completed a marathon. She not only finished it, but she ran back to make sure her younger brother also got across the finish line. Because I was running marathons at the time, when the youth came into my courtroom, I was able to really connect with her.” Judge Arthur adds, “When a CASA  provides a report which shares the little things that happen with their youth, it speaks volumes.”

When asked to identify the biggest challenges facing youth in dependency court, Judge Arthur mentions the lack of adequate funding for programming such as substance use and drug treatment programs for youth. “It’s difficult to order youth into drug treatment programs and can be hard to get youth the help they need. There are not enough programs to send them to and they typically don’t want to go into a residential program which may be too far from where they live. Waitlists are a huge challenge for youth and parents.” He also cited a lack of mental health services, “How do we get help for a teenager who doesn’t believe they have a mental health problem and won’t willingly go into a residential treatment program? These are very challenging cases. They go into group homes and display aggressive or assaultive behaviors - how do we place those children and get them into appropriate treatment?”

“Continuity of treatment is another challenge within the system.  As a youth changes placements, their education and mental health services are interrupted, and they do not have continuity of care.  This often results in different educators and mental health providers.  In addition to changes in treatment caused by changes in placements, youth can also experience a change with their attorney, judge, social worker, or probation officer for a variety of different reasons. Each time there is a change, the youth must tell their story again and repeat that trauma. CASAs see this a lot and are often the only through-line that maintains continuity with the youth. Any time I see an order come through where a CASA must leave a case for their own personal reasons, I cringe a bit because the CASAs are often the one mainstay for these youth,” Judge Arthur disclosed.

More CASAs in the system would be beneficial, according to Judge Arthur. Although CASA has grown tremendously over the years since he served on the CASA OC Board, including a term as Board President, there are still not enough CASAs to be matched with every youth who wants one. “To immediately be able to link up a youth when they come into the system with a CASA would be huge,” he said.

His words of advice for those considering becoming a CASA? “Really understand the role before jumping in. It’s not all fun and games and potential volunteers need to understand the difficulties. Consider talking to other CASAs. But for those who go through the training and become a CASA, it can be extremely rewarding.” He added, “I’ve gotten to know many CASAs over the years and know they derive a great deal of satisfaction from the work they do. There are some really awesome CASAs, and our youth are better for it. Many CASAs stay in touch after their youth age out because the bonds become so deep. I encourage existing CASAs to keep doing the great work they are doing. Don’t ever question whether your report is going to be read because I read them all. I can get the ‘nuts and bolts’ elsewhere, but that personal touch, I can’t get that anywhere else.”

Judge Arthur closed by talking about the highs and lows of the work he does. He shared how the trauma of some cases hits hard and may take time to get over. He added that some cases are never to be forgotten. People in his line of work receive training on secondary trauma. He said, "Every case that comes through the door is a different story and a lot of times, not a positive story. We hear about lots of trauma.” He tries to alleviate some of the pressures that come with the work by walking his dog and working out.

But the flip side is recognizing the impact his work has on the lives of others. “A case I worked on last year really moved me and made me realize what we do is important work and we can’t ever forget that or treat this as just a job. I love this work and feel very fortunate. I love coming to work every day.” He went on to say, “I’m always preaching to my adult kids to find something that makes you happy because you spend a lot of time working so you have to be comfortable with your job environment. I feel very lucky to be here and hope to be doing this work for a long time to come.”

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month

Each year, nearly 408,000 children in the United States experience abuse or neglect, ushering them into the dependency court and foster care systems. A child in foster care, on average, will move into multiple homes and attend multiple schools. All this chaos and inconsistency has long-term effects. Children and youth who have spent time in the child welfare system are more likely to face incarceration, homelessness, and unemployment. They are less likely to graduate high school and more likely to be trafficked.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), at least one in seven children have experienced child abuse and/or neglect in the past year, and this is likely an underestimate. In 2019, 1,840 children died of abuse and neglect in the United States. Right here in Orange County, there are over 3,450 children and non-minor dependents who have been removed from their homes due to abuse, neglect or abandonment.

But here is the good news, statistics show that a consistent, caring adult can have a tremendous impact on changing a child’s story. Court Appointed Special Advocates of Orange County (CASA OC) supports and promotes court-appointed volunteer advocacy so every child who has experienced abuse or neglect can be safe, have a permanent home and the opportunity to thrive. 

CASA OC trains volunteers to advocate on behalf of children and youth in the courtroom. Even throughout the past two years of the Covid pandemic, as we’ve navigated our way through unprecedented challenges and constantly changing restrictions, CASA volunteers have remained committed to providing best-interest advocacy for children who have experienced abuse or neglect. 

As a consistent, caring adult in a child’s life, CASA OC volunteers help Orange County judges make the most informed decisions for the well-being of the child. These volunteers also help identify resources for the child and their families to help strengthen families and prevent crises before they occur. 

Right now, CASA OC is providing services to approximately 650 Orange County youth by matching them with a well-trained advocate. However there are an additional 177 youth who are waiting to be matched with a CASA volunteer. 

This is where you can help, your contribution of time or treasure helps us expand our services to more children at risk of additional abuse or neglect. We are looking for more volunteers and especially need the involvement of men and people of color to better serve our diverse youth. Please consider volunteering or donating today.

CASA Spotlight - Shae Hagen

This month we shine our volunteer spotlight on Shae Hagen!

This month CASA shines their light on advocate, Shae Hagen. Given March is women’s history month, Shae shared with us which female figures have made a significant impact on her life. Shae’s grandmother was her biggest advocate as she had plenty of guidance, wisdom, and insight to share with Shae that Shae still values. Ruth Bader Ginsberg is her favorite historical female figure because she was a champion of gender equality- many of the rights women enjoy today (equality in education, financial, disabilities, and civil rights) are all thanks to her relentless work and sacrifice. Shae’s favorite female quote by Kavita Ramdas states, “"We need women who are so strong they can be gentle, so educated they can be humble, so fierce they can be compassionate, so passionate they can be rational, and so disciplined they can be free".

Shae works in the legal field and is also passionate about making a difference in the world. Shae is familiar with the CASA organization as she was a CASA in another state a couple years ago. When the pandemic hit, she moved to California and chose to look into volunteering again at CASA. She wants to continue to be a stable influence during a very turbulent time in a young person’s life. She was sworn in at CASA OC in 2020.

Shae understands how crucial it is for children in foster care to have a supportive adult and role model in their lives. Shae was matched with her current youth in November 2020. Shae became Brittney’s* CASA during the pandemic, so she had to learn how to navigate that on top of her new role as a CASA. She would check in with Brittney on a weekly basis and met in person outside in the backyard when possible. Shae made sure to remain child-focused, asking Brittney questions about herself and current events happening in her life.

Her CASA youth, Brittney, had never been matched with a CASA before so she did not know what to expect and it took some time for her to open up with Shae. Shae made an effort to ask Brittney about her passions and strengths in order to get to know who she is as a person. Shae discovered that Brittney has a green thumb for gardening and loves animals. They loved going to a cat café to spend time with rescue cats. Of more significance, Shae and Brittney were able to bond over gardening and did that activity often during their outings each month. Brittney even made the initiative to ask her foster parents to garden in their backyard. This encouraged her to remain positive about life and was proud of herself for taking that initiative.

Shae describes Brittney as resilient, intelligent, curious, and personable. She was put in a position where she had to grow up quickly, so she is very wise and mature beyond her age. Shae describes Brittney as an old soul in a young person’s body. Though she was shy at first, Shae has really seen her come out of her shell since she first met her. Brittney is very motivated and driven when she wants something. Brittney currently wants to get her driver’s license and is making an effort to make this happen.

Shae’s advocacy style is simple. She doesn’t pressure Brittney to give her answers; but rather, she is just a sounding board for her, not offering a response, just listening. She never tries to dig for information and instead will just let Brittney bring up topics she wants to discuss. You cannot force anyone to talk about something if they do not want to in the first place. Shae shared that it is also important to pay attention to the little details. For example, Shae noticed her CASA youth really enjoys using eye shadow, so she got her eyeshadow for Christmas. Her CASA youth was surprised she knew how much she liked eyeshadow and it showed her that Shae was paying attention to her. It is the little things that are usually the big things in a youth’s eyes and what matters most to them.

Shae’s greatest success so far as a CASA has been developing a trusting relationship with her CASA youth. Shae stated that when she first met Brittney it was hard for her to open up and Shae knew trust was crucial for the foundation of their relationship. Over time, after consistency and Shae’s child-focused approach, Brittney opened up more to her. Britney knows that Shae is a stable presence in her life and is able to voice her feelings and thoughts with her CASA when she needs to.  

Shae’s greatest challenge so far as a CASA is dealing with the system itself. Shae states that there are so many people who come and go in foster youth’s lives that there is never any real consistency for these youth. It is a constant revolving door. Aside from navigating working within the system, there are also case challenges. Substance abuse and frequent AWOL behaviors have been challenging for Shae because she simply cannot control what Brittney does. It is also difficult for Shae to get any input from Brittney about school, so she relies on input from other members of team like the social worker in order to advocate for Brittney as much as possible. It is hard for these youth to trust that the system will help them succeed given so many people are only in their lives for such a short period of time. Shae is only one who has remained consistent in Brittney’s life.

Shae’s advice to other CASAs is that CASAs should objective when advocating and to be solely for the child. CASA are the eyes and ears for the child. Shae expressed that CASA should expect their relationships to take a lot of time and effort. CASAs should be patient with the process and their youth. Shae feels that everyone should consider becoming a CASA as it is such a unique volunteer opportunity that one can do in your local community. It takes a village to help these youth in foster care realize their potential for success.

‍*Name changed to protect confidentiality.

Shae's Case Supervisor, Scott Goldfarb, shares: “Shae Hagan was my first new advocate when I came aboard as a new CASA Supervisor a year ago. From the beginning, her case was a challenge. Shae has stuck with all the challenges presented by her case. Through multiple placements, in and out of the hospital, and multiple AWOLs, Shae has really stuck by her CASA youth. Today, Shae's youth has really blossomed, and I attribute a lot of that growth to the time, energy and love Shae has given her. Shae is a joy to work with and a real testament to the mission of CASA”.

CASA OC Spreads The Love For Valentine’s Day

Karina Tarsadia and Ryan Clemons

Kids for CASA recently held their 2nd Annual Bear-Building event for Valentine’s Day. The goal was to raise $32,500 to recruit and train CASA volunteers and to create and donate hundreds of custom-stuffed bears to Orange County youth in the juvenile court system. Thanks to the overwhelming support of our community partners, donors and volunteers, Kids for CASA raised almost $40,000!

The event was hosted by the Newport Coast Child Development Center and was staffed by Kids for CASA youth. Volunteers helped children select and stuff a variety of plush animals to donate to youth in foster care. Karina's Backpack Project provided gift bags loaded with fuzzy socks, beanies, water bottles, $10 Target gift cards and candy. Handwritten valentines and bundled candy, donated by community auxiliaries and Kids for CASA chapters, were also included in gift bags. 

Later that afternoon, Friends of CASA members and CASA staff distributed the stuffed animals and overflowing gift bags to advocates to bring to their CASA youth for Valentine's Day. 

Thank you to all of the incredible families and donors who so generously supported this sweet and heartwarming event. Special thanks to Newport Coast Child Development Center families who actively participated in the event with several of their young children. The kids did an amazing job selecting and building stuffed animals only to give them away to another child.  Their reward was a high five and a lollipop.....a testament to how kind all of these littles were.

James Joseph, Liam Flanagan, Ava Joseph, Bridget Flanagan

Johnny's Animaland provided the materials to make the bears and brought along family members to help in the fun with the bear-building pump stations. Mango House Media was on hand to take photos and capture video of the event. And a big shout-out to Kids for CASA and two of their high school chapters: Santa Margarita Catholic High School CASA Teens and Corona Del Mar Kids for CASA who were on hand to work at the event.

To support CASA OC or for information on joining Kids for CASA, please visit 

CASA Spotlight - Marion Sistrunk

Marion has been a CASA volunteer for over a year. She is humble and has a good heart, always taking the time to do things for others. Her friend, who is now a social worker, used to volunteer as a CASA and shared with Marion the uniqueness of the CASA program. Marion wanted to find a volunteer program where she could make a bigger impact and build an actual relationship with someone. When she found out about CASA, she was excited about the opportunity to connect with a youth in foster care.

Marion has taken on two cases since becoming a CASA and both were during the pandemic. Marion was sworn in as a court-appointed special advocate in August 2019. Marion was matched with her second youth, 17 year old *Claire in February 2021.

She describes Claire as introspective, funny, social, and adventurous. Though they met during the pandemic, Marion was able to plan outings as things began to open and vaccines became available.  One of their first outings was bowling which seemed to be a hit with Claire. They also enjoy shopping at Target and roller skating together. Marion and Claire hit it off from the beginning and love seeing each other every month.

Marion said, “When I first met Claire, she seemed lonely and depressed. She seemed eager for attention and someone to hang out with.” Marion added, “Since then, Claire has grown into a young woman who is happier, more herself and who can easily make friends.”

One of the biggest challenges for Marion has been how to navigate her youth’s substance abuse. It was hard for Marion to navigate the telltale signs of someone using and know what to do. She took the time to educate herself on the topic to learn how she could best support Claire’s needs. Marion also relies on her Case Supervisor Donna Doocy when needed.

At the moment, Claire is doing really well despite her previous trauma. She continues to work on her sobriety with a lot of support from her team.  Claire has been able to maintain good grades and will graduate from high school on time. She would like to remain in extended foster care once she turns 18 and wants to go to college and start working. Marion encourages Claire to advocate for herself since she will be reaching adulthood soon and knows how important it is to have independent living skills as a young adult.

Marion’s advice to other CASAs is to listen more and give advice less. Marion said, “If we are not listening to our youth, then how can we best advocate for them?” Marion shared that her Case Supervisor is key to her success as a CASA. Donna Doocy, Marion’s Case Supervisor, said,  “Marion is truly a dedicated CASA. Her youth has struggled with drugs and alcohol for quite some time. Impressively, Marion did a lot of research on the particular drugs her youth was using so she could educate herself.  I think her youth was quite surprised at Marion's knowledge but, perhaps, relieved. Marion's patience and understanding has been so needed for her youth who has had so many people abandon her. Marion should be proud to call herself a CASA!”

‍*Name changed to protect confidentiality.

2021 Annual Holiday Party for CASA Youth

CASA OC youth were recently treated to a winter wonderland at the annual CASA Holiday Party. Special thanks to Saddleback Church for generously hosting and providing space, volunteers and the resources to put on such a magical event! 

With over 600 people in attendance (including youth, Saddleback volunteers, and CASA staff and volunteers) we were able to distribute over $30k worth of Amazon gift cards to the kids CASA serves. Gift cards were generously donated by more than 30 local partners in addition to 1,000s of books from Barnes and Noble, hand-knit winter hats and blankets, activity kits from Active Discovery and more! 

Santa visits, train rides, dancing with a live DJ, arts and crafts, a snow machine, cookie decorating and a huge pile of toys, books, and hand-crafted gifts were all part of the holiday festivities.

Chief Program Officer, Jenny Leon


Event Chairs: Janine Wald & Nicole Inal



Matthew Wadlinger

Chief Strategy Officer



Santa Ana, Calif. (December 10, 2021) – Friends of CASA, a membership auxiliary of Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Orange County, hosted its annual Holiday Luncheon & Fashion Show on Thursday, December 2nd, at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel in Dana Point. The Luncheon and Fashion Show that began as a Holiday Tea 26 years ago has brought in over $5.5 million dollars since 1995. This year’s Luncheon had a record breaking net for the eighth year in a row – with over $530k that will go directly to supporting CASA’s mission of providing a powerful voice and a meaningful connection for children who have experienced abuse, neglect and abandonment.

The Luncheon was chaired by Nicole Inal and Janine Wald, who were assisted by a team of 62 members from the Friends of CASA (FOCASA) auxiliary group, which is led by FOCASA President, Colleen Masterson. 420 guests filled the halls and courtyard outside of the ballroom to bid on 171 auction packages during the champagne reception. Guests were able to fulfill a child in foster care’s wish through ornaments placed on the “Starfish Wish Trees”, featuring almost 400 different wishes from the children in the CASA program. Starfish Wishes included items like new clothes for school, baseball lessons, art supplies and Uber gift cards to get to work. Barclay Butera Interiors served as Starfish Wish Ornament Sponsor.

The reception area and ballroom at the Ritz Carlton were exquisitely decorated with holiday touches that sparkled in hues of blue, green and pink and styled by Elite OC Productions. This year’s fashion show was presented by Weekend Max Mara and South Coast Plaza and produced by Deborah Keillor, of DK Fashion Stylist. The event program began with CASA CEO, Regan Phillips, welcoming guests “back” to an in-person event and thanking the chairs of last year’s virtual fundraiser chaired by Christy Flanagan and Nicole Joseph. Guests were then treated to the Weekend Max Mara fashion show featuring a sneak preview of the Spring/Summer 2022 Collection on the runway in addition to the Fall/Winter Collection currently available in stores. Following the event program, Weekend Max Mara showcased a Pop-Up Shop in the hallway where guests were able to purchase some of the items that were just featured on the runway!

This year’s keynote speaker was Ashley Rhodes-Courter who shared her personaI story of resilience, perseverance, and survival. The audience was captivated by Ashley’s humor while sharing her harrowing story leading up to her match with a CASA volunteer. Ashley shared, “Because of a CASA, I’m able to be here with you today sharing this beautiful afternoon in this incredible venue having these wonderful laughs. But my brother, and so many of my foster brothers and sisters will never see the end of their twenties or their teens.”  She went on to say, “Thousands more children would fall through the cracks without the services provided by CASAs, volunteers and community members like you.”

The opportunity drawing was provided by Exclusive Jewelry Partner, Lugano Diamonds, who generously donated a beautiful necklace featuring more than seven and a half carats of rose cut diamonds delicately set in 18K yellow gold. This exquisite piece was valued at $20,000.  Grace Zimmerman was the lucky winner.

Ruby Starfish Sponsors included The Jacqueline Glass Family.  BDO USA and Wells Fargo shared a sponsorship.

Friends of CASA are committed to raising funds for CASA of Orange County’s mentor-advocate program for abused and neglected children in the foster care system.  Through the annual Holiday Luncheon, the Friends of CASA raise awareness of the CASA program, recruiting volunteers and long-term donors to CASA. This year’s Executive Committee of the Holiday Luncheon was comprised by the following Friends of CASA members: Lourdes de Quillien, Kimberly DeLamar Matties, Liz deSousa, Danette Dye, Christy Flanagan, Maggie Flornes, Jennifer Gonzales Oxen, Jennifer Hanlon, Annette Hellmich, Lori Jackson, Holly Joseph, Patty Juarez, Deborah Keillor, Sandi Marino, Christina Markl-Coffey, Debbie Masek, Colleen Masterson, Sarah Minakary, Marjie Mros, Sandy Parten, Erika Pedersen, Bill Peters, Valerie Ramsay, Dana Strader, Sara Van Dusen, Briana Verham, Trisha Yount

About Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA)

Court Appointed Special Advocates of Orange County is a privately-funded non-profit organization that serves severely abused, neglected and abandoned children through the recruitment, training and continued support of volunteers who advocate for and mentor these children, representing their best interest in the courtroom and other settings. Founded in 1985, with major support from the Junior League of Orange County, CASA provides a powerful voice and a meaningful connection for children who have experienced abuse, neglect and abandonment. We are able to serve these children through the generous support of those who donate to CASA as well as the immeasurable compassion and commitment of our CASA advocates. Please visit to learn more.

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Friends of CASA President, Colleen Masterson, Keynote Speaker, Ashley Rhodes Courter and CASA OC CEO, Regan Phillips
All Committee Volunteers for Friends of CASA Holiday Luncheon 2021

Advocate Story: Ryan Hoey and USC Athletics

When Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Ryan Hoey first met his CASA youth, “J”, they experienced some of the usual challenges getting to know one another. They weren’t able to meet face-to-face due to COVID restrictions and Ryan felt he needed to get creative in thinking of a way to better connect with 11 year old “J”. Ryan eventually landed on "J"’s enthusiasm for all things sports; basketball, football, baseball. He loved it all.

After going through an online directory for USC, Ryan started peppering everyone he could find with introductory emails. He reached out to a number of Athletic Directors as well as people on the medical and social work side of the university. He was hoping to find a coach, a player or anyone on one of the many sports teams with a life story that would be more relatable to young "J" and the challenges he was facing. Ryan was hoping to find someone who could help "J" connect the important role education and teamwork plays in success in sports.

Within a short period of time, Ryan was blown away by the overwhelming response he received to his emails. He soon had meetings or calls set up with Athletic Directors in Track & Field, Football and even a Sports Medicine doctor. 

After learning more about Ryan’s desire to make a connection with his CASA youth through USC athletics, McCall Hall, Director of Community Outreach at USC, reached out to Ryan and began to make connections with student athletes who would be willing to talk with "J" and share their own personal journeys.

Soon after, some of the best student athletes and coaches from USC football organized to participate in a zoom call with "J". Ryan joined "J" at his school for the call. The USC student athletes shared their journeys growing up in tough neighborhoods. They spoke to “J” about the importance of staying out of trouble and trying hard to do your best. The athletes talked about the importance of education, belief in yourself, attendance, and teamwork. Ryan said of that day, “I immediately saw a brightened spirit in “J” - I had never seen him smile so big or be so happy.”  He added, “I felt, for the first time, a mutual bond developing between us.”

The story doesn’t end there. After learning about the work CASA OC does, USC wanted to develop a long term partnership with CASA to give back to the Orange County community. McCall Hall of USC met with the leaders of CASA to brainstorm other ways the university could help CASA youth through special experiences and connection with USC student athletes who could share their stories and inspire CASA youth to persevere through adversity.

Since then, USC has deepened their connection with CASA through their annual “Day of SCervice”.  That event, which featured USC alumni and former NY Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, was designed to help recruit CASA volunteers and donors. Mark Sanchez is a longtime supporter of CASA.

Recently "J" was the lucky recipient of a “Trojan Wish” which included special VIP treatment at a USC football game, time on the field including photos with players and a swag bag filled with USC merchandise.  

When asked how “J” enjoyed his day as a special Trojan guest, social worker Manny Rodriguez said, “He was totally stoked. The experience changed his point of view about grades and school. He now says he’s going to play for USC when he gets to college.”

CASA is so grateful for supportive Community Partners like USC, for creative CASA volunteers like Ryan and, most of all, for kiddos like “J” who allow us to share in their journeys. 

CASA Spotlight - Brooke Dobos

Brooke is a remarkable, child-focused volunteer who has been a CASA for one year. She understands the importance of consistency in a young person’s life and knows the value of keeping her word. Brooke first heard about the CASA program several years ago when she was watching a Dr. Phil episode on television. She was very moved by the story of a young man who was constantly moving from placement to placement with no one by his side. He wished that through his time in care there was at least one person in his life he knew he could count on to be there for him through it all. That sentiment stuck with her and once she had time to commit to a foster youth, she signed up to be a CASA volunteer in 2020.

When Brooke was assigned to her CASA youth, Briana*, she was anxious and nervous. She did not know what to expect. At first, Briana did not engage with Brooke. It was awkward and Brooke was not able to connect with her like she thought she would. Going into this volunteer program, Brooke thought she would be matched with a little girl and thought it would be easy for her to navigate as she has kids of her own. What Brooke did not know is that most children in the foster care system who need the most support and consistency are teenagers; and so, when Brooke was matched with a teenage girl, she did not feel prepared.

In the beginning of their relationship, Brooke tried to engage with Briana by checking in with her via text message on a weekly basis. The responses were minimal, if at all. Brooke was at a crossroads and asked for guidance from her case supervisor on how to get Briana to engage with her. It was not until there was a team meeting for Briana that her CASA spoke to her for the first time. Brooke waited until the end of the meeting to directly ask Briana if she wanted to get together that week. Briana agreed and after their outing of bedazzling face masks, Briana was more responsive than before and they started to go on outings regularly.

Brooke was matched with Briana during the thick of the pandemic in 2020. Brooke shared how difficult it was to navigate how to build and develop a relationship during a pandemic, especially one with a teenage girl. Outings were very limited, so most of their time spent together thus far has been sitting outside in the backyard of her group home, socially distanced and with face mask coverings. Though starting out as a CASA during the pandemic was challenging, Brooke could not have done it without the support from her case supervisor. Her case supervisor is always there for her when she needs to vent, talk through a situation, and answer questions. Brooke was unsure how her match would go, but with advice and encouragement from her case supervisor, she slowly but surely developed a wonderful bond between her and her youth.

Brooke describes Briana as a beautiful, artistic sixteen-year-old girl who loves to dance and is not afraid to speak her mind. She likes to shop, watch movies, and test out different makeup and hair color styles. She has been in foster care since 2016 and has been to more than fifteen different placements since she first came into care. She recently reconnected with her biological family and CASA continues to be an active part of her family finding process. Currently, Briana is doing well in school and will be moving to a new foster home soon. Briana has been to so many placements already, but she is looking forward to the new environment and change. Brooke stated that Briana feels like so many people in her life have left her behind which is why Brooke feels so strongly about being her one constant and reassuring her that when she moves, she will be there by her side- she is not going anywhere.

Brooke expressed that the most important thing to remember about being a CASA is to be patient, listen intently, and be open minded to your CASA youth’s experiences and situation. Brooke also reminds herself daily that she is not her youth’s parent and giving advice to her youth is not always what she wants- if she asks for advice, she will give it to her, otherwise she will listen with a supportive ear. Brooke expressed that, “every day is a small step towards success. It is the baby steps that matter.” Brooke likes knowing that her youth is getting something out of this relationship: a friend, a mentor, an advocate- someone who is in her corner now and always will be.

*Name changed to protect confidentiality.

Brooke's Case Supervisor, Michelle Oliveira, shares: “Brooke has been a CASA for just over a year. She is matched with a youth that has faced so many challenges throughout her life. Brooke has shown patience, consistency, and compassion for this young lady. She has stayed child-focused and advocates for her youth in all areas. Brooke also seeks guidance and does well collaborating with the team. As her youth faces even more challenges and changes in her life, she can be assured that her CAA will be there right alongside her!”


Los Angeles Chargers center Corey Linsley and his wife Anna are still relatively new to both the team and to Southern California, but have wasted no time giving back to the community.

Corey and Anna selected Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) as the recipient of the Corey Linsley Matching Gift Challenge last month. Donations of up to $60,000 were matched by the Linsleys and the Chargers Impact Fund. Funds raised will be split between CASA Orange County and CASA Los Angeles. 

The Linsleys started their work with CASA Brown County when Corey was with the Green Bay Packers, even getting sworn-in to become advocates themselves. They've since gone on to work with CASA OC and CASA LA.

At the Chargers/Giants game on December 12th, a check will be presented to the leaders of both CASA OC and CASA LA by the Chargers. To make the event even more special, the team donated 50 tickets to CASA OC allowing CASA youth and their advocates to attend the game along with members of the CASA staff.

Corey will take to the field in custom-designed cleats highlighting CASA. His cleats will sport the CASA/GAL logo representing Court Appointed Special Advocates/Guardians ad Litem.

Corey was recently selected as the Chargers nominee for the NFL’s 2021 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. He was also the 2020 nominee for this award when he was with the Green Bay Packers, and in both years his involvement with the CASA program was highlighted. 

We are so grateful for community partners such as the Chargers and dedicated individuals like Corey and Anna Linsley. It is due to their generosity that CASA is able to serve so many youth who might otherwise have no-one in their court.

Community Partner Spotlight: Barnes & Noble

With almost 200 Orange County youth in foster care waiting to be assigned a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA), it’s not always possible to match up a child with a CASA from a similar background. Sometimes, coming from very different life experiences can make it more challenging for a bond to develop between CASAs and the youth they serve.

Flo is an Orange County CASA who was having some difficulty connecting with her youth. She wanted to take a deeper dive into understanding how to better relate to her child who was from a different cultural background. Flo began seeking out literature to provide better insight into her youth’s life experiences. She found the books she was reading so helpful that she, along with other members of the CASA Diversity Committee, created a recommended reading list to help educate advocates.

Barnes & Noble in Aliso Viejo Town Center is a supporter of CASA and a generous contributor to Orange County youth in foster care. Each year they donate a large supply of books to CASA. These books are then distributed to children at CASA’s annual holiday party.

To further aid the work that CASA OC is doing, Barnes & Noble in Aliso Viejo donated a portion of all sales last month to customers who mentioned CASA when they made their purchase. 

We’ve shared our CASA Diversity Reading List and hope you’ll think of Barnes & Noble in Aliso Viejo as you’re doing your holiday shopping. We are so grateful for the meaningful way Barnes & Noble has partnered with us to lift up the children we serve and to help our CASAs be the best advocates possible for the youth they support. 

Linsleys Work with CASA to Give Children a Voice

Anna and Corey Linsley

CASA Spotlight - Greg Peterson

This month we shine our volunteer spotlight on Greg Peterson!

Greg initially learned of CASA OC through a friend of his several years ago. It was appealing to him so he decided he wanted to learn more. To learn more about CASA OC, he attended an information session and felt that it was a perfect opportunity for him to be able to help a child in need.  

He has now been with CASA OC for about six years. He was first assigned to a 16 year old boy who is now 19 years old, named William*. When he first got this case, he heard from others that William was short tempered, but Greg never saw that side of him. Greg describes William as very honest and always polite. He has seen him grow in the years he’s worked with him, especially in the  area of independence. William recently moved out of transitional housing into his own apartment and purchased a car. Seeing William succeed in these areas has been incredibly rewarding for Greg. He is very proud of all that William has achieved.  

Greg and William found a commonality in skateboarding. Greg used to skateboard in his younger years and found that William also loved to skateboard. Greg found this to be a great way to bond with his youth. They would find themselves talking about skateboarding a lot and Greg would take him to skate parks and watch him skateboard. At times, William would get in trouble about skateboarding and Greg states he was able to relate to this as he had experienced this in his younger years also. Their common interest in skateboarding allowed Greg to bond more easily with his William and helped lay a foundation for the strong relationship they have today.

Greg feels that his consistent presence has made a difference in William's life. Just being a constant in his life and continually emphasizing the importance of graduating contributed to his youth getting through high school and growing into the young man he is today. Greg saw how much William loved his father and how much William wanted a close relationship with him; however, his father lives far so that limited their contact. Now that William is out of transitional housing and in his own apartment, Greg regularly texts him to see if he is okay. William confided in Greg that no one other than him checks in on him to see how he is doing like Greg does. This statement was one of the most meaningful things William said to him as Greg realized how important he, as a CASA, is to his youth. Greg states that as a parent, that is what you do with your own children, but William doesn’t have that; thus, he appreciates it from him even more. When asked what Greg’s greatest success is with William, he would say the longevity of time they have been together as well as the success in helping his youth to understand the importance of getting his high school diploma.

The challenges that Greg faces on his case have been plenty. Of course there are struggles and Greg explained that William has had ups and downs. Greg describes that things would go great for a week, then the next week he would struggle with school, drug use or trouble with the police. He stresses that CASAs need to have patience and the understanding that these things take time.

Greg extended his generous heart and time to another CASA youth during the pandemic. He was assigned to work with a 20 year old young man who needed someone to support and guide him in his last year of foster care. This case has since closed; however, Greg, understanding that a year isn’t enough, continues to be a supportive adult in this youth’s life. They continue to get together every couple weeks and have a good relationship with each other.  

Greg’s advice to other CASAs is to remember that things won't happen quickly and that you have to be patient. It is a long term commitment, even longer than the two years that the organization asks for. Greg feels good knowing that he is making an impact in someone’s life even if just as a sounding board for his youth. Greg knows that being a constant in both their lives is essential for their success. He provides support, a listening ear, and most importantly, empowers them to go after their dreams and believe in themself.  

*Name changed to protect confidentiality.

Greg’s Case Supervisor, Karyn Quick, shares: “Greg has been a CASA for over four years. Greg continues to work on his first case which had a lot of twists and turns. He took on another young adult who really needed a mentor and encouragement to do his best during difficult times during the Pandemic. This young adult turned 21 several months ago and Greg continues to see him. Greg has been a great advocate, he has a calm presence and meets the youth where they are at. Greg is a pleasure to work with.”

Celebration 2021

CASA Celebration - Nets Over $1.117M 

Irvine, Calif. (October 6) – Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Orange County, held their annual Celebration Event, on Saturday, September 18, 2021! Over 250 guests arrived to support CASA’s mission of serving abused, abandoned, and neglected children in Orange County with a trained and supported volunteer advocate. This year’s Celebration Event had a net of over $1.117M. It was an especially celebratory occasion in light of the fact that the event was live and in person - allowing the guests to reconnect after over a year apart.  It was truly a time to celebrate, and make up for lost time! In contrast to previous Celebration events, we wanted this reimmersion event to be bold and bright, with all attendees dressed in colorful cocktail chic attire. We lost the tie and loosened up for a night of pink, orange, and gold decor throughout the starlit courtyard venue. Celebration 2021 was overseen and executed by six incredibly dedicated CASA supporters who served as this year’s Chairs: Jacqueline DuPont-Carlson, Karen Jordan, Lourdes Nark, Urvashi Patel, Wendy Tenebaum, and Linda Young. 

Sponsors and ticket holders were welcomed into the courtyard for the cocktail reception before heading into the magical glow tent where dinner was served. The courtyard was beautifully transformed by the team at Elite OC Productions. A beautiful floral backdrop with a sitting swing donated by Ketel One Boutiques was such a fun interactive photo opportunity for all attendees. Guests were able to enjoy various spirit stations generously donated by Diageo with delicious paired appetizers such as caviar and ceviche. Brightly colored floral arrangements, matching the theme of the event, from Paul Fenner Floral Designs, decorated the courtyard reception.

This year’s honorees included The John & Gail Ueberroth Family Foundation as Outstanding Foundation, Lugano Diamonds as Outstanding Corporation, The Wong Family as Children’s Champions, and Nancy and Richard Eaton as our Advocates of the Year. The Eaton’s acceptance speech included some remarkable statistics about CASA’s impact on foster youth from Richard,

“The difference having a CASA makes in the future for foster kids is incredible. Over 93% graduate from high school, and being a graduate gives them opportunities most of us take for granted. Fewer than 10% of children with a CASA volunteer re-enter foster care, they are less likely to be homeless, stay out of prison, and get a good job. In other words, having a CASA is the magic ingredient in a Foster kid living a life that wasn’t going to happen and having a wide open future.”

And an excerpt from Nancy about her CASA youth, Lizeth:

“We went places: the Broad Museum to see a Jasper Johns exhibit, the San Diego Zoo, Boot Camp workouts, and even Grit Cycle. The list goes on and on. We celebrated all the holidays and celebrated birthdays in style. There were always balloons, a cake, and flowers. These were places we physically went to, but the challenge was where we went emotionally. She was always coachable, always willing to try a new way of thinking and new ways of doing things. She trusted me. She also participated in many life-skill classes that were available. One of the most amazing things is that over the years so many people have supported her. In fact, many people in this room tonight were on my ‘CASA support team’. The success of this young lady starts with her dedication to her education and her drive to work and support herself. Honestly, she is one of the hardest-working people I know. She has a boyfriend, her own apartment, works as a manager of a restaurant, and…… seriously happy. Would this have happened without a CASA? I am going to suggest it would not. This is why we are here tonight. I am happy she had someone that is consistent in her life to guide and consult with her. She means the world to Richard, Kendra, Axel, Grandma Donna, and me. She is part of our family, and we love her.”

Auctioneer, Jim Nye, helped facilitate the evening’s various auctions from the sponsor’s soundstage,  and we also heard from CASA CEO, Regan Phillips. Jim Nye energized the viewers with a mini-auction during the cocktail reception securing bids for a champagne parade to your table coupled with table-side butler service for the remainder of the evening. There were fabulous and unique items in both the live and silent auction, some of which included a private jet to Napa to experience Robb Report’s Car of the Year, an opportunity for the bidder - as well as a foster youth - to attend some highly coveted music sessions at the exclusive 1500 Sound Academy, as well as a Caviar and Dinner party hosted by Lugano Diamonds in their beautiful salon.

The evening concluded with a live performance from Grammy Award Winner, Macy Gray, culminating with her hit song “I Try” and guests on their feet dancing and singing along.  It was truly a magical and successful celebration in support of CASA’s critical mission in support of local foster youth.  Everyone seems to have a newfound appreciation for the power of connection after this past year, and our Celebration guests rallied to ensure that foster youth do not have to endure the system alone due to the life-altering connection that CASA provides.   

CASA Spotlight - Paloma Ocampo

This month we shine our spotlight on Advocate Paloma Ocampo!

In celebration of Hispanic Heritage month, we wanted to spotlight one of our own, Paloma Ocampo. To Paloma, there was always something so special about CASA and she wholeheartedly believed in the CASA mission.  She loved the idea of being able to work with a child one-on-one and the opportunity to expand her knowledge of the dependency world.  

Paloma’s parents and older siblings immigrated from Mexico in 1989, because her parents wanted to offer her siblings a better life and education; Paloma was born just a few years after their arrival. 

After decades here in America, her family continues to carry on the cultural traditions of their homeland.  Paloma and her family celebrate Mexican Independence Day by dressing in traditional Mexican clothing and celebrating with one another.  There is always a special event on television that day that they watch together.  Their biggest and most important celebration is Christmas.  They celebrate the holiday on Christmas Eve and it is important to be with family on that day.  They enjoy eating the traditional Mexican foods like tamales, pozole and arroz con leche to celebrate the holiday. Her father makes the best arroz con leche, and Paloma describes it as “heaven on earth”.

Paloma’s first match was with a four year old girl living in a foster home with a caregiver who only spoke Spanish. Because of their shared culture and language, Paloma was able to build trust with the caregiver and her CASA youth, making their bond even stronger. Paloma and her youth also share a similar taste for traditional Mexican food, something that her youth was used to eating before coming into care, which Paloma made note of for their outings. Her CASA child loves rice, which Paloma notes made past CASA events a hit when El Pollo Loco was being served.  

In the beginning, her CASA youth was a shy little girl.  She was nervous about doing things in public or about speaking up for herself.  She is now eight years old and Paloma has seen her grow so much!  Paloma is so proud of how far she has come.  Her CASA child has learned to speak English and is making so many friends.  She is so mature and wise for her eight years. Paloma credits her child’s entire team for this progress.

Paloma feels that the greatest success in her case was being able to help her CASA youth through some very difficult times and knowing that her CASA youth had a consistent person in her life when so many other people came and went.  Paloma’s greatest challenge was accepting the fact that there is a process to the system and at times you just have to go with it. Paloma states that sometimes, even though you don’t agree, you have to accept things. There have been times during the case when she had concerns and worries about the plan for her youth, but she had to understand and trust the process. 

Paloma talks about the many ways that advocates can put a light on their child’s heritage and culture.  There are so many colorful and educational events going on in downtown Santa Ana on Fourth Street during Hispanic Heritage month (9/15-10/15), such as live music, art shows showcasing Latin artists, and Day of the Dead celebrations and parades. Something is happening every month in this little part of Santa Ana that celebrates this culture.

Paloma feels that having an open mind is one of the most important things to remember as a CASA and not to have expectations that things are going to go a certain way. You might think  that you and your CASA child are going to connect right away, but it is important to remember it takes time to build a true connection. Just being there for your CASA youth, listening to them, reaching out to their team and voicing their needs is your most important role. She says it isn’t always a happy ending, but you have to accept that you did what you could.  You spoke up for your youth and you gave them a voice. 

Paloma loves that she is part of the team working for the child’s best interests. She loves being able to be at court and giving the court a picture of her CASA youth and what is needed.  She loves being able to collaborate with her youth’s therapist to make sure her child is getting what she needs. Her least favorite part would be difficulties in getting in touch with certain team members, such as the social worker. This doesn’t stop Paloma at all.  She accepts this challenge and always has plans and back up plans to get a hold of people.  

Paloma feels that as a Chicana/Mexican American, it is important to be a positive influence in her community.  She suggests that others like her should get involved in their own community. She states that unfortunately her community is heavily impacted and in need of people willing to help. She says that volunteering isn’t the only option and to just get involved, give back, and educate others in the community about the things going on within their community.  

In her work as an advocate, she came to love everything about CASA and decided to take the next step and interview for a Case Supervisor position.  She has now been working at CASA for a few months and she is happy to see that everything she saw during training—the commitment, shared goals and team work—carries over to the entire agency.

Her culture and upbringing has greatly influenced her role as an advocate and as a Case Supervisor.  She was witness to the challenges her siblings faced growing up.  She saw them struggle with school, struggle to learn English and deal with bullying.  Seeing this has given her the understanding and appreciation of the obstacles immigrant youth and their families face here in America.  She wants to be someone that can support and guide others going through similar things as she was able to do for her siblings.  

Paloma says that being a CASA and working for the CASA agency has made her more humble.  She admits that she has had challenges and struggles in her own life but when she sees how her CASA youth and her siblings have struggled yet are so happy and thriving, it really puts things into perspective.  CASA is very lucky to have her as part of the team!

Paloma’s CASA Case Supervisor, Karyn Quick shares: “I have had the pleasure of being Paloma's case supervisor since December 2015. She is currently working on her second case for the past 4.5 years. Paloma was instrumental when her youth was to testify in criminal court. Paloma was by her side so her youth felt safe in a scary and unbearable situation. Her youth had a victim advocate too but she felt safer with her CASA by her side. Paloma has been a great advocate for her youth. I'm excited that Paloma has joined the CASA team as a case supervisor.”

Subaru to Sponsor The Newport Beach Jazz Festival, Presented by Bank of the West


September 28, 2021




[Newport Beach, CA] – The Newport Beach Jazz Festival is proud to announce an official partnership with Subaru for this year’s 25th Anniversary Celebration.

Subaru is more than a car company. At Subaru, they believe in being a positive force in the communities they serve, building lifelong relationships with their customers, earning their trust, and exceeding expectations. This is why they have begun The Subaru Love Promise – their initiative to show love and respect to all people at every interaction with Subaru.

Through relationships with organizations like our non-profit partner, Court Appointed Special Advocates of Orange County (CASA OC), they set an example for others to follow. This year, The Subaru Love Promise will donate $15,000 to CASA OC, to help provide a powerful voice and a meaningful connection for children who have experienced abuse, neglect, and abandonment. 

“We’re so proud to partner with Subaru through the Subaru Love Promise. Because of their generosity, we will continue to recruit, train, and supervise volunteers to support Orange County’s most vulnerable youth. It’s an honor to be a part of the Newport Beach Jazz Festival. We’re looking forward to seeing these incredible artists perform and to raise awareness for our important work on behalf of foster youth in our community.”  Regan Phillips, Chief Executive Officer, CASA OC.

“Subaru and its Los Angeles-Orange County area retailers are delighted to be in partnership with the Newport Beach Jazz Festival for its 25th year anniversary and CASA OC,” said Eric Park, Marketing Manager - LAX Zone, Subaru of America.  What this organization does for foster youth is heroic beyond words and in support of their great work, we hope this donation will bring more attention to their mission. It’s exactly what Subaru celebrates as a brand through Subaru Love Promise“.

The festival kicks off on Friday night at Hyatt’s Back Bay Amphitheatre with a VIP concert featuring Mindi Abair. The intimate outdoor concert venue offers 1,000 seats within 100 feet from the stage. On Saturday & Sunday, the festival heads down to the Back Bay Golf Course for two days of the finest smooth jazz, R&B and adult contemporary music. Fans will be treated to 20 performances on two alternating stages led by Anthony Hamilton, Tower of Power, Sheila E., Lalah Hathaway, Damien Escobar, Rick Braun + Richard Elliot and more, an International Food Court, eclectic Vendor Village, shade lounges, VIP hospitality, and spectacular views of Newport’s Back Bay. 

Tickets are on sale now at Please note that all Weekend and Saturday tickets are now sold out. GA Sunday Tickets are available while supplies last. 


Mindi Abair


Anthony Hamilton

Sheila E.

Jazz Funk Soul feat. Jeff Lorber, Everette Harp + Paul Jackson, Jr.


Jackiem Joyner & Steve Oliver

Derek Bordeaux


Tower of Power

Lalah Hathaway

Damien Escobar

RnR – Rick Braun + Richard Elliot

Jazmin Ghent

Erin Stevenson

Tony Guerrero & Greg Vail

About Hyatt Regency Newport Beach

An iconic refuge for your Southern California getaway.  Our hotel was built in the 1960’s and boast the classic early California, low-profile building architecture.  It was one of the first full-service hotels in the area and in its’ heyday entertained a number of celebrities and hosted all of the “fashionable” events in the area.  You came here to see and be seen!   A true toast to the SoCal lifestyle we offer a variety of outdoor activities from Golf to biking to sunbathing, embrace family (including the furry family members) and promote a healthy/balanced lifestyle.  Over 5 decades of growth and development have brought many new hotels to our area, but none that are as steeped in tradition and charm as Hyatt Regency Newport Beach. Today we would identify ourselves as a landmark in Newport Beach, reminiscence of an era long gone; the perfect home away from home during your Southern California stay. From hosting the historic Newport Beach Jazz Festival, to a romantic wedding in our amphitheater, to a poolside family reunion or a craft cocktail at our fireside lounge; the best of Newport Beach starts here.

About Subaru Loves to Help.  Right now, millions of Americans are out of work and cannot access food for themselves or their families. One in four children in this country may face hunger. Subaru and our retailers donated 50 million meals when the pandemic began but the need is still so great that we are doing it again. In April Subaru donated 50 million meals to Feeding America®. Now Subaru and its retailers are helping donate an additional 100 million meals. This action is part of Subaru’s effort to help make meals available at 199 local food banks across the country. It’s the Subaru Love Promise at work. Subaru. More than a car company.™

About Omega Events, Inc.

For the last two decades, Omega Events, Inc. has been a leader in live entertainment, bringing world-class musicians and their fans together at a variety of music festivals, winery concerts and special events. Omega Events’ team specializes in every aspect of event production, including talent buying, sponsorship, marketing, beverage sales, vendor relations, cash-management, and concert production.

About Court Appointed Special Advocates of Orange County (CASA OC)

Court Appointed Special Advocates of Orange County is a privately-funded non-profit organization that serves severely abused, neglected and abandoned children through the recruitment, training and continued support of volunteers who advocate and mentor these children, representing their best interest in the courtroom and other settings. Founded in 1985, with major support from the Junior League of Orange County, we serve annually approximately 700 of the children who move through our court system as a direct cause of abuse and neglect. We are able to serve these children through the generous support of those who donate to CASA as well as the immeasurable compassion and commitment of our CASA advocates. At CASA of Orange County, our mantra is I am for the Child. Learn more about the ways to give to CASA as a means to help us support and protect the rights of our county’s valued children and to give them the nurturing and stability that they deserve. Please visit to learn more.


Rich Sherman

(949) 362-3366 x 201


CASA Spotlight - Hellen Vollero

This month we shine our spotlight on Advocate Helen Vollero!

Helen found herself at a time in her life when she was divorced, and her two children were in college. She now had more time to give back to her community and had a heart for children. She started exploring different volunteer opportunities and this is when she first learned about CASA. Then out of the blue, two of her friends called her at separate times to ask her if she had ever heard of CASA. She knew then that this volunteer opportunity was for her. That day she signed up for an information session and after attending this session and learning more about CASA, she thought to herself, that there was no better place to spend her time. 

She started working with her CASA youth when he was seven years old. He had lived in a car and never learned how to brush his teeth, shower, or use the restroom. He was unable to articulate his feelings which led to suicidal ideation and aggressive behavior towards staff. She would only see him in person one time, right when the pandemic hit, and would not see him again in person for another year. 

In the beginning she would visit her CASA youth together with his sibling and the sibling’s CASA. This was needed in the beginning due to his age and the situation. It was easier to bond with him in a group setting and because of this, he was able to become more comfortable with her. According to staff at his placement, he now looks forward to their one-on-one outings. Helen tries to do things with him that bring joy to his life, like going to the beach, boogie boarding and going on the Balboa Beach ferry. She describes that her greatest success with her CASA youth was just being able to bond and create a relationship with him. He is now able to open up to her, he seems to handle his emotions better and articulate his feelings more with all the counseling he has received. 

For Helen, the most important things to remember about being a CASA is being there for your youth, being consistent and remembering that it is all about them. For Helen, it is important to make sure her CASA youth knows there will be at least one person in his life that will not let him down, someone he knows will always be there. 

Her greatest challenge and least favorite part about being a CASA is working within the limitations of the foster care system. Wanting so badly for positive things to happen and accepting when these things are not always possible has been hard. Knowing that her CASA youth has such high needs and has moved so many times is frustrating. She is frustrated with the lack of placement options for a child with his needs, how slow things move and how long decisions take to be made, the many holes in the system and all the balls that get dropped. It is heartbreaking for her, but she perseveres. 

When asked what advice she would offer to other CASAs, she urges them to continue to educate themselves with all the options available; take advantage of the resources CASA has to offer, go to CASA to CASA events where you can learn from and share ideas with other CASAs, read books off the CASA book list. There is so much that a CASA can learn.

She encourages every CASA to look for the good in any situation. There are hard times with her CASA youth; but he is adventurous, brave, funny, energetic, resilient, and a fashionista. If she can help him channel those good things, that would be a blessing. Helping him to see the positives in himself and in life will change the way he sees himself and the world. Helen wishes she can make a difference in the lives of all the children in the foster care system, but knows she is making a difference with this one child. 

Being in this season of her life, all the changes have been a blessing to her because it allows her to do something meaningful and important. She has grown so much. Learning about what is going on in her community, her own backyard has changed her perspective. She described how once you go through training and learn more in depth about the situation these children face, you cannot “unknow” what you learned and that it is happening in your own backyard. This knowledge propels her ever forward and motivates her to make sure her youth has everything he needs to be a happy and thriving child.


Helen's Case Supervisor, Kari Becker, shares: “I have had the pleasure of supervising Helen on her case for a little over 1.5 years. When I first met Helen, I could tell how compassionate and caring she was. I knew instantly that she was a natural fit for CASA and without a doubt would be a strong voice for one of our children. Helen's case has been a tough, heart-wrenching, especially for a little guy that is only 8 years old! However, even through the pandemic, Helen has been relentless in advocating for him. Whether it has been through her consistently showing up to every visit, CASA court reports, and any all team meetings related to her child. Helen always comes with great input and insight to her child's needs. She has gained the respect and admiration from those professionals involved in her case. They know exactly who to go to and listen to as they appreciate her suggestions, thoughts, and concerns. I know Helen will continue to thrive in her role. Keep up the fantastic work, Helen!"

CASA Spotlight - Karen Carson

This month we shine our spotlight on Advocate Karen Carson!

Karen is a star advocate who not only enjoys helping her CASA youth thrive to be her best self but also enjoys helping other CASAs learn how to build strong relationships with their youth. Karen first heard about CASA when she was working at a local credit union and her co-worker met someone who was working at Orangewood Foundation. Karen started to volunteer at Orangewood with the independent living program when a CASA approached her about the program. Karen was unaware of CASA program at the time but was intrigued as soon as she knew what kind of program it was. Though she was interested in becoming a CASA, she decided to wait for a year since she knew it was a greater commitment than she could take on at that time. She has been a CASA since 2018 and been with the same youth. Recently, Karen spoke at the 2020 CASA conference, specifically to other CASAs about how to build better connections with their youth through empathetic listening. She also leads core training for incoming advocates in which she discusses her role and perspective as an advocate herself. 

Karen met Grace* in 2018 and has been her CASA for three years. Grace has been in seven different placements in only three years, struggled with mental health and school challenges, and had no one by her side except for her CASA. She suffered abuse from her father and had ongoing challenges with her mother. It seemed to Karen that no one ever told Grace that she was a good person or that she mattered, and she was often told “no”.

Karen describes Grace as compassionate, caring, and an animal lover who loves to dance. Karen’s first initial meeting with Grace was slightly awkward, but they easily got along once Karen started to ask her questions about herself. Grace wanted to have a CASA for a long time, so she was excited to finally be matched with someone. She and Grace seemed to hit it off from day one, but that is not to say it wasn’t difficult for Karen to build trust with her. Karen was tested from time to time and she had to learn how to say no and develop healthy boundaries with Grace. Grace has a difficult time trusting people, especially adults. So, when Karen came into her life it took time for that trust to develop between them. Karen had to work hard to gain her respect and trust. Grace did not like guidance nor help. Karen supported whatever Grace wanted to do and encouraged her to see her own strengths and positives. It took Grace about a year to realize that Karen was there for her and that she could trust her.

Consistency is key in developing trust with youth who have been through trauma. Grace deals with some mental health challenges that have been hard for Karen to see when she sees Grace struggle. Though it is difficult for Karen to see her suffer at times, she is always there for Grace when she needs someone to talk to and someone to lean on for extra support and comfort. Grace does not have a lot of support from other people, so when Grace was once admitted to a psychiatric hospital for suicidal ideation, Karen went to visit her. Karen was the only person who visited her, and it meant a lot. She loves squirrels, so Karen decided to bring her a stuffed animal during her stay at the hospital. er face immediately lit up when Karen gave it to her. In addition to such challenges, Grace tended to have difficulty in school. She was not as motivated as Karen hoped, so Karen stepped in to advocate for her education as much as possible. Again, she was consistent and showed up to all meetings the school had for Grace. One time, Grace had an IEP meeting at her school and when Grace became frustrated, she stormed out of the room. Karen followed her to see what was going on and though she was adamant that she did not want to go back into the meeting, she agreed to at least attend via Zoom. Karen told her that she mattered and was able met her where she was at. Another example of consistency is when Karen attended one of Grace’s dance recitals. Karen was the only one in the audience who was there for Grace. Karen recalls Grace looking for her in the crowd and she knew at that moment that she mattered to Grace. Those little moments and the consistency that Karen continues to show her youth is the foundation of their relationship.

Grace is currently doing very well and living on her own. She is 19 years old in a transitional housing program where she is able to have her own apartment as long as she pays her rent, attends school and/or works full time. She is in the process of enrolling in school to finish high school. She is looking for a job as well. Karen has seen Grace mature into a beautiful, smart young adult who is able to manage conflict better and be independent. Karen expressed that all she needed was “a little water and sunlight to blossom”.

Over the past three years, Karen and Grace developed a relationship that was built on trust, understanding, and respect. Karen considers her youth a friend and knows that this relationship will not end once Grace turns twenty-one years old. Karen’s favorite part about being a CASA is that she gets to spend time with someone who she truly admires and knows their relationship is long-term.K aren recently moved out of state but has decided to remain on Grace’s case until it closes next year. Karen and Grace continue to talk to each other every month and will enjoy a meal together over Facetime frequently. Karen even flew out to visit her in March and will fly out again for her birthday this Fall. Karen’s view of the world has changed since becoming a CASA- she now has a better understanding of family units and the court system. Everyone has their own story and she feels she is more patient and understanding of the plight of others. Karen would like to continue to do more philanthropy and give back to others.

Karen’s advice to other CASAs is to not sweat the small stuff. It is easy to worry about every little thing your youth does but try to remember that if it is important to them then it is important to you. That is what truly matters. You are making an impact even if you do not feel that way. Expect the unexpected and do not commit to this role unless you know you are able to give yourself fully from the very start.

*name changed for confidentiality reasons

Karen's Case Supervisor, April Allton, shares: “Karen is a truly incredible advocate who exhibits the utmost care and professionalism. She has been assigned to her youth for the past 3 years. Her youth has not had an easy time and is not the easiest to connect with. Her youth pushes people away and doesn't trust easily. Karen has built a wonderful and caring relationship with her youth, being one of the only adults that her youth trusts. Karen possesses a skill set I have not seen often. She always shows unconditional love and acceptance, kindness, understanding, knowledge of trauma, is very proactive and is consistently engaged. Not only does she go above and beyond in her role as a CASA, but she also trains other CASA's! Her trainings are excellent and impactful. I am so lucky to have worked with Karen over these past 3 years and I learn and grow from her every day”.

CASA Links - Kathy & Norb

My five years as a Court Appointed Special Advocate have been exactly what I imagined it to be, both beautiful and difficult wrapped up in one very powerful package.

Not only have I been privileged to meet three amazing kids, plus their siblings, parents, families and caregivers, three years into the program, my husband, watching on the sidelines, made the decision to jump in. My theory is that he didn’t want to miss out. - Kathy

My first year of being a CASA has been pretty much what I expected after watching Kathy’s involvement from a distance for the last couple of years. I was motivated last year to finish the training online and was quickly assigned an older teenager. Starting a relationship in the midst of a lock down made it very challenging. I’m excited about the possibilities that this year might allow me to connect at a deeper level with my CASA youth and to have the opportunity to give some stability, mentoring, and the chance for a friendly smile. - Norb

As we’re writing this we realize that it would be a dishonest perspective to just paint the whole experience as just simple or fun or easy. Not one of those things has actually been a part of our own lives, both in or out of our involvement in the CASA program. Yes, it is a simple answer to a very complex need. Show up, listen, and keep showing up through the awkward silences and the unspoken wounds. It can be easy to grab a hamburger with a child, and hilariously fun to run down the beach trying to escape seagulls from eating those burgers and fries. Hopefully we’re helping to create forever memories that can bury deep in between their wounds and traumas.

But it does take emotional commitment and spiritual discernment sometimes to see it through. Any fun or easy parts have usually been squeezed in between our own lives. As a family we have walked through our share of really hard and beautiful and uncertain circumstances. Maybe that’s why we decided to step into this role. 

No child should have to go through this alone.

After 35+ years of marriage, we have seen that love is not just good feelings and perfect days. It’s a mixture of commitment, forgiveness, learning, really caring and an awful lot of laughter. Walking through family crises and our own share of loss and grief we have learned how powerful relationships have been and continue to be for our personal healing.

Maybe that’s why we want to pay attention to the little ones in our world who just need someone to care enough to keep calling, keep listening, keep showing up.

We are both so grateful that so many years ago we heard about this volunteer opportunity. CASA has definitely done the work in order to make it such a powerful platform to in turn be able to impact lives of some of the most beautiful, yet vulnerable human beings in our world.

CASA Links - Morgan & Stephanie

Hello everyone! My name is Morgan Hirsch and this is my mother, Stephanie Hirsch. She is my role model and always encouraged me to be kind, love fully, and do good by others. We live in Orange County, CA and found CASA through my mother’s friend, who is also a CASA in the Bay Area. He talked to us about what CASA is, what it means and what it entails. After doing research of our own, we figured this would be a great agency to volunteer in. I was looking at volunteer experiences to add to my resume as I wanted to get my master’s in School Counseling. I figured this would be a perfect way to get experience. My mother is retired and wanted something to do with her extra time that was both meaningful and impactful. We both love to give back to the community and encourage others to do so as well! 

We looked up dates for CASA’s training and started. We have been volunteers for CASA since November of 2018 and officially became sworn in in December of 2018. It was great to go through training with someone that you know and it was even better/more convenient to carpool. The training was 30 hours which consisted of night classes and Saturday classes, but well worth it! We became so informed and loved hearing from the guest speakers. 

We love the purpose of CASA and what it stands for. Being a voice for the children who have been abused, neglected, are in a foster home or group home. Being able to build that special relationship with a child/teenager, though it may be challenging at times, is always uplifting and empowering. Not only do you make that difference in your Youth’s life, but it also makes you grateful and appreciative of all that you have. 

I truly encourage everyone who reads this or is thinking about CASA to jump in and join! I am going to be real with you, sometimes it is devastating or exhausting, but it is always worth it to do good by others and help them out. The smallest gesture could be so moving to these children. There are so many youths (currently 225 in OC) that need someone to be there for them, support them, and be their voice. You won’t know unless you go for it and take the chance! Even if you just sign up for an information session, you are still gaining knowledge and information, and now can spread the word to people you know as well. I hope you do it! We love being CASA’s!

CASA Links - Kerry & Cathy

Cathy was encouraged to become a CASA by a close friend in early 2015 when she retired from a career as a pediatric nurse. She had planned to volunteer feeding the homeless, however, her friend convinced her that she was meant to do so much more. Over the past six years she has been a CASA to six young girls, most recently two siblings. Cathy was able to be in court to experience the adoption of her first youth and her two siblings by the most wonderful adoptive parents, and even invited by the family to attend the children’s baptisms. 

Cathy has always shared her enthusiasm about her activities with her youth with her daughter, Kerry, including the wonderful planned CASA events and what a difference a CASA can make in the life of a child. Of course, she was delighted when Kerry decided to become a volunteer. Cathy was so proud and emotional when she attended Kerry’s swearing in ceremony. 

Kerry saw firsthand how rewarding CASA could be and the difference you can make in a child’s life. When her mom encouraged her to volunteer, Kerry jumped on the opportunity to experience the same joy she saw her mom experiencing. She attended training the summer of 2017 and was matched with her first youth in October. Kerry has had the opportunity to mentor and advocate for three youths ages nine to thirteen. She was even able to attend the virtual adoption of one youth just a few months ago. It was an exciting and celebratory day! 

Both Cathy and Kerry encourage anyone with a passion for making a difference to sign-up for one of the upcoming information sessions!

CASA Links - Cameron & Cheri

Cheri Starr has been a CASA for almost 7 years. Cheri always wanted to work with abused children, and while her career took her on a different path, she found the CASA program through a friend who had been a CASA for many years. She’s been a CASA for a total of three children: a 10-year-old boy, a 6-year-old girl and a 13-year-old girl, each of them for 2-3 years. 

Cheri is also the aunt of Cameron Jones, a CASA advocate for a little over a year who attributes his choice to become a CASA largely because of Cheri’s impact. Prior to becoming a CASA, Cameron mentions his aunt’s excitement and passion for her CASA role as inspiring and contagious, motivating him to learn more about what it meant to be a CASA.  Ultimately, when sitting in church one Sunday, a video was played advertising CASA and sharing a testimony of an advocate and Cameron felt called to finally sign up for the CASA training.  Two months later, Cameron was sworn in as a CASA advocate and a few weeks later, was assigned to his first case just before COVID-19 quarantine. Cheri knew Cameron’s kind and giving heart would make him a wonderful CASA.

Cameron and Cheri, in their new shared bond as CASA advocates, often use each other as resources to discuss the ups and downs or progress with their youth and the broader CASA role. The shared recognition that being a CASA is not without its challenges or frustrations, but ultimately recognizing the fulfillment and positive impact you can have on your youth far outweighs personal apprehensions and expectations. 

The infamous ‘Starfish’ story shared during CASA training has proven to be a key mantra and motivation for both Cameron and Cheri this past year. Navigating the unique challenges of COVID-19, quarantine lock downs, and socially distanced relationships with family, friends, and their CASA youth has been difficult, but the ever-present opportunity to make an impact on their youth provides the hope and energy to continue advocating and building trust despite the challenges of the past year. Being able to lean on each other, as well as their case supervisors, to navigate the unique challenges of being an advocate has proven to be an invaluable support system for Cameron and Cheri. 

Being a CASA has been an amazing experience for both Cameron and Cheri, not only as advocates, but growing their family relationship as well. Although being a CASA is a commitment, both Cheri and Cameron emphasize how the time is nothing compared to the opportunity to advocate for these kids and try to give them hope and love. Cameron and Cheri hope that anyone reading this looks into this wonderful organization and signs up for the informational meeting. The joy and love that will fill your heart being a CASA will bring joy to a deserving CASA child’s life as well.

CASA Spotlight - Minzi Jones

This month we shine our spotlight on Advocate Minzi Jones!

From foster parent to advocate, Minzi was a foster parent for about three years before becoming a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA).  She remembers the children that came to her home seemed to be incredibly alone.  They would show up to her home with nothing but a trash bag with all their belongings. As a foster parent, her experience with the foster care system was frustrating, but she wanted to continue to help those children in need.  She wanted to do something to make the situation for foster children in care better.  Minzi shared that her mother was addicted to the Dr. Phil Show and that is where she learned about CASA.  She attended an information session and felt that this was the right fit for her. She could continue to work with foster children and help make a difference in their lives as a CASA.

Since becoming a CASA, Minzi has been assigned to five different cases.  She is still in touch with the foster children whom she worked with except for one.  Her first case was with a 17-year-old boy.  Unfortunately, he struggled in foster care and, like many others, had difficulties following the rules. Minzi also worked with a young lady who had been in foster care since the young age of six.  Minzi felt that their relationship was the closest.  Minzi worked with her until she turned 21.  She is now 27. 

Minzi remembers her youth telling her they always felt that she listened to them and that she was there for them. She wouldn’t get mad at them and would always support them no matter what.  She continues to be this way today.  Minzi gave them what they needed.  She stated no matter what they did, she would always be there for them.  She didn’t believe in lecturing.  She just wanted to provide support, care and guidance.

When asked what she felt was one of her greatest successes, she talked about the time she was able to advocate for her youth’s education. She advocated for him to be assessed for an Individualized Education Program (IEP).  He was a 13-year-old boy from a different country who had a  2nd grade education though he was in the 7th grade.  Clearly he was not getting his educational needs met. She attended meetings and helped him understand what was being said, because Minzi knew that the way things are discussed during such meetings can be confusing to youth and also make them feel inadequate. At one point, her youth asked her if there was something wrong with him. She was able to help him see that there was nothing wrong with him, he just needed those around him to understand him and what he needed. It was determined that her youth did qualify for an IEP and was then able to get him the help he needed.  He was placed in a more appropriate school environment and he started getting all As!  Even though he had been so far behind, he graduated because of the support and advocacy Minzi was able to provide as his CASA.

Her greatest challenge has been looking back and wondering “what did I do for them?” She knows that she can’t undo what happened to them, so she focused on always being there for them so they would always have someone in their corner.

Being a CASA, she has learned an important thing: it was never about her.  She stated that when you go through training, you get so invested in it and can forget this.   She realized this when she was helping one of her youth with a project. Both were really excited about it and knew he would get a good grade on the project.  After working on the project, she dropped him off and he ran away from placement that day.  She was frustrated that after all she did for him, he just left.  After thinking through her frustrations, she remembered that it is not about her.  She realized what she did was to help him and not her.  She learned that whatever she does for her youth, to do it without expectations.

What Minzi likes most about being a CASA is getting to work with teenagers.  She likes working with teenagers, even the “spicy” ones.  They are social and genuine. She can’t imagine not being a CASA. Also, she has loved working with her supervisors.  What she likes least about being a CASA is seeing the heartbreak that these youth experience from being separated from their families.

In addition to being a traditional CASA, Minzi interned with the CASA Family Connections program.  She would like people to know about the Family Connections program. She feels this may be a good alternative for people who are not wanting to be a traditional CASA, but want to help improve the lives of foster children.

“CASA has completely changed my life” said Minzi.  It made her want to go back to school to become a social worker.  She earned her Bachelors in Social Work in May 2021 and is now working on her Masters in Social Work. She wants to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Her new internship will be focusing on restorative juvenile justice for teenagers.

When asked what advise she has for other CASAs, she states that they should utilize their case supervisors as much as possible and remember that social services and the system moves slowly.  She feels that if you remember this, it is easier to take on your role. She also wants to remind CASAs to remember to be present with their youth and not to lecture them but listen.  She states that they feel like no one listens and are always being told what to do. Lastly, she wants CASAs to remember it is not about you.

Minzi’s Case Supervisor, Karyn Quick shares: I have had the pleasure of working with Minzi for the past few years as her case supervisor. Minzi has worked with several foster youth over the past 10 years and always has a great connection with her youth. Minzi is a caring, funny and a hands-on CASA. What's great is that her former youth are still in contact with her. 

Minzi’s Family Connections Supervisor, Sylvia Novakoff shares: Minzi is a Family Connections advocate star. She is passionate about our mission to connect youth with family and other important people and build a supportive, caring network. She’s super creative and innovative in making connections happen. Minzi is a great “family partner” --  coaching family members about dependency, offering empathy and compassion, and “keeping it real” to manage expectations on both sides. Minzi recently wrapped up a six-month Bachelor's in Social Work internship with Family Connections and she earned a spot in USC’s prestigious MSW program. The CASA in-service she created about incarcerated parents earlier this year was one of CASA’s most highly attended. Minzi is truly a gift as a traditional CASA and a Family Connections advocate.

Professional Spotlight - Honorable Judge Keough

In celebration of the Honorable Judge Dennis Keough’s service to a generation of abused and neglected children, we wanted to pay tribute to a remarkable bench officer who has dedicated 25 years of his judicial career to the field of juvenile justice. Judge Keough has spent many years presiding over difficult matters in Dependency Court with great care and compassion, and he appreciates the dedication of our Court Appointed Special Advocate volunteers. 

In anticipation of his departure, CASA sat down with Judge Keough to learn more about the man who has been a longstanding fixture at Lamoreaux Justice Center, presiding in Department L23. He began our talk by expressing his deep gratitude for the CASA OC volunteer advocates. He acknowledged the immense impact an advocate has on a child and their future, and how their connection with the child will be something that will ripple throughout their life and serve as the healthy foundation for the future connections they make.

“The life affirming presence of a CASA, the beat of a caring heart has the unique capacity to resonate with, and fill the needs of a child’s heart.  The rhythm of such resonance will resound all the days of a child’s life like a wave upon the sea.  And like a wave upon the sea, it will break with a buoyancy that never fails as it washes upon tomorrow’s shore to lift the child’s life each day anew. Children’s lives are richer and fuller because of CASA, our world is a better place because of CASA, and CASA gives eloquent expression to the best of our humanity. The plaintive cry of a recurring question asks, where are good people in difficult and challenging times?  While I don’t know where all of them are, I know for certain that I see a great number of them in courtrooms speaking  for children as CASAs,” shared Judge Keough.

Judge Keough’s career was inspired by mentor-figures who touched his own life.  His older brothers encouraged him to pursue higher education in the humanities and law. Keough’s skills and reputation as a trial lawyer led to his appointment to a seat on Nebraska’s 5th Judicial District as an Associate County Judge.  Serving as a judge in the 6 counties of Nebraska’s 5th District, Keough was an integral part of the lives of the people and the communities he served. He saw the people he was serving as individuals, friends, and neighbors who were all a part of the same community, and therefore, a part of each other’s lives. Keough returned to California in 1981 and accepted a position as an Assistant District Attorney for Santa Cruz County. To demonstrate his authentic interest in the individuals who appeared before him in his courtroom, he would often engage them in off-the-record conversation; he would challenge them to look within themselves and encourage them to become their best selves. He would ask a youth to promise more to themselves than anyone else, that because others have seen boundless possibilities for their future, had recognized the profound value and dignity of their life. That they would not sell themselves short, or betray their own future, but would give it their best shot to excel and “become the person dreamt of in their fondest dreams.”

Though serving youth is hard work worth doing, there have been difficult and challenging times. Keough compared his method to overcome these adversities to mining for gold: doing all of the work that is required in order to find the gem inside every child. 

“Try your hardest, give a child a sense of their own self-worth and their value as a human being, as they are kids who are entitled to warmth, nourishment, and love. And you see this when children talk about their CASAs. This blossom they are experiencing for the first (time) in their lives is that sense of an emotional connection. And it’s watching that gem, and seeing that life you touch, grow.”

Keough shared that finding this gem requires a lot of resilience and comes with constant unexpected lessons to learn from, even after thirty-five years of practicing juvenile court. Keough shared an example of the importance of the cases that can and do come before a Juvenile Court and the problems faced by children and families, a case that we will call Joey’s case. Joey was a seven-year-old little boy, going on 35, a very tough, afraid, and fragile little boy.  

“I took off my robe and I sat beside him on the chair and asked ‘how old are you?’ and he replied, ‘seven.’ And then I asked ‘what’s wrong?’ and he just started crying. And it still gets me to this day” Keough continued with his voice breaking. Joey’s older brother had run away from a home placement, had been living on the streets, and there were gang members trying to find him because they wanted him dead. It was overwhelming for Judge Keough to see a child of seven be burdened with this type of conflict. In an attempt to soothe Joey, Keough said, “I can’t promise you that if you tell me where he is, that we won’t go get him, but there are worse things that can happen to your brother than if comes back into the courtroom and talks with me, and we find him a home far away from people who want to hurt him.” And soon after, they were able to get Jesse’s brother off the streets, to a new home, and now, years later, he has a life for himself and a family of his own. Joey was one of the many kids who absorb life’s challenges and traumas like a sponge, and when they do so, it provokes a need in Keough to give more. This is just one instance where the ability to trust each other and reach out to kids impacted him in a way that is hard to put into words but could be felt on a fundamental level. 

He continued to share that CASA has done this really well. That our advocates have done the work to tease out the humanity within the child and their story, and through this, the two hearts develop a common language with one another. And their connections made with the child help him serve them better in the courtroom and set them up for a promising future.

How a CASA, or really anyone who wants to make a difference in a child’s life, can take comfort in knowing their work matters and is making a difference, is to trust that they are guides in the adventure of a child’s life. It takes “tenacity, wisdom, hope, and love” to show up and be there for the child, especially when the child is reluctant or distant due to their trauma. Keough shared it is bittersweet to know a person who extends their hand may never see the fruit of their labor, but the seed will blossom and they need to trust that they will have made a difference. “One child at a time, we will change the world, and they will succeed.”

CASA Spotlight - David Reinwald

This month we shine our spotlight on Advocate David Reinwald!

David is a special man who was destined to be a CASA. He was first recruited by his friend who is an educator, but the timing for this volunteer opportunity was not ideal for David. He then was reminded about CASA by his favorite radio station, NPR! A heartfelt shout out to KCRW for the promo. Once summer came that year, David felt it was the perfect time for him to look into signing up for CASA. He says he loved the training and the idea of mentoring outside his clergy/teaching capacity. Three years later, his CASA adventures have led him to be open to many new things, including Pokémon, if necessary, to connect with his CASA youth. Even 2020, the year of the pandemic, could not deter David from his CASA role. CASA OC is grateful for his contributions during these challenging times.

When reflecting on his cases, David likes to tell the story and give credit to his case supervisor for how his first case required a little negotiating because the youth, a 16-year-old boy, did not want to have a CASA. Coached by his case supervisor, David got his CASA youth to agree to go on at least three outings to decide if CASA was not for him. With this opening, David planned three really different outings to show his CASA youth that the program could be a positive thing. After the third outing, David’s case supervisor asked the CASA youth if he wanted to continue with CASA. His response was, “Why wouldn’t I want to continue with CASA!” David reflects on this saying that time and patience are necessary to help youth realize that CASA is a good thing for them. David made the outings as much fun as possible, but he also added life skills building opportunities. Some of the outings included college tours and fairs which were both informative and fun, as well as Pokémon adventures to keep it light and fun.

As far as challenges, David shares that he does not think he has had to encounter huge challenges, except when he needs to be careful not to project his emotions unto the youth such as when he saw his youth move into a temporary shelter. Stay strong for them, is what David recommends to his fellow CASAs.

The number one thing to remember is to stay patient, says David. Give your youth time to experience new things at his own pace and don’t try to teach them everything at once. Take time, and spread activities out. Remember to have fun because everything does not have to be so serious. Listen to your youth and figure out what types of questions to ask, but remember not to ask too many questions. Take it one step at a time and stay patient.

David feels that being a CASA is one of the best volunteer opportunities he has had. His reward is to encourage the potential he sees in the lives of his CASA youth. The little things he and other CASAs do for these kids, even small gestures, can represent a special opportunity and will go a long way toward their growth and confidence. As far as the downside of being a CASA, David says that court report writing can be anxiety inducing for him, especially if there are a lot of professionals to contact. This is why David dedicates time to study his reports and learn what is needed as far as information and style. He admits that he likes to write in a poetic style so he’s learned to adjust a bit! Another difficult aspect of the role is when it’s time to say goodbye, especially if he and the youth really bonded.

People that know David, expect him to talk about CASA all the time and to try to recruit them. It was evident in interviewing David for this article, that he truly believes in the CASA mission to be a powerful voice and a meaningful connection for youth in our community. In closing, David kindly shared how impressed he is with CASA OC because of how smoothly it runs. As a final word, David would like to tell other CASAs to reach out to others to spread the word and recruit more CASAs!

David’s Case Supervisor, Cindy Nydell, has this to say about him: “David has been a great support to 3 different CASA youth. David is great about being very consistent with having outings with his youth and keeping in touch with the caregivers.  He also stays involved with the youth’s school to help support any educational needs. I have been very lucky over the last 2.5 years to work with David.  His commitment to CASA is great and he always makes me laugh when reading his Optima entries and when talking on the phone.  He consistently attends CASA trainings and even recently  presented on our CASA panel.  He enters all notes in Optima very quickly after his outings.  Thank you, David, for being a "constant" in a youth's life.”

A special message from CASA-OC's CEO

Dear CASA Community,

May is National Foster Care Awareness month.  It’s an important time to draw attention to the fact that there are nearly 437,000 children in foster care in the United States.  California alone is responsible for over 60,000 of those children; more than twice the number of any other state.  Each of these nearly 437,000 children were removed from their home or family of origin due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment.  Each of these children experienced the initial trauma which led to their removal, as well as the secondary trauma associated with the loss of their family, friends, school, and community – a loss of all things familiar.  And each of these children were ushered into a system wherein they are effectively being raised by governmental entities, to include the court and social services. This “system” was created with a benevolent intention to help; to offer protection from the initial and underlying trauma these children endured, but it is not equipped to raise the nearly 437,000 children within its care, nor is it turning out particularly impressive results.  

Nearly 437,000 children in foster care is a crisis, but it’s one that that remains largely unknown or misunderstood.  And this crisis does not end upon adulthood or emancipation from the system, because the outcomes for foster youth trend bleak.  Nearly 80% of the prison population includes individuals who spent at least some portion of their life in foster care. About 50% of foster youth will not graduate high school; only 15% will attend college, and only 3% will receive a degree.  Roughly half of all foster youth will experience homelessness, at least once, after aging out.  And the rates of PTSD among foster youth is higher than the rate of PTSD among veterans returning from war.  

The CASA model of providing a powerful voice and a meaningful connection to a child in the foster care system is simple, but wildly effective.  Studies reveal that even a single positive relationship allows a child to develop crucial coping skills.  A CASA volunteer’s presence and involvement communicates to the child that they are not alone, and this single relationship can effectively counteract the negative impact of the trauma that all foster youth have experienced in varying degrees. The benefits that result from the CASA relationship are reflected in the educational outcomes (93% high school graduation rate for foster youth with a CASA vs. general foster youth population), the unique and personalized recommendations that are adopted by the Court, and in myriad other immeasurable ways.  During a recent annual survey, foster youth were invited to share what they like most about having a CASA.  Some of the responses included: 

“Knowing I’m not alone.”

“I have someone to talk to.”

“She’s always checking in on me to see how I’m doing and makes sure I always have resources available.”

“She is fun, she is funny, she makes me feel happy, she brightens my day.”

It is often the smallest act of kindness that results in the most meaningful impact.  A CASA volunteer’s sheer presence communicates so much to a child in foster care.

I am perpetually perplexed by how many people I encounter in the community who are unfamiliar with the plight of foster children in our country.  They are often unaware of the circumstances that result in a child entering foster care and they are most certainly unaware of the number of children affected on a national and state-wide basis. If you are receiving this newsletter, you are already more aware than most.  Thank you for your readiness to be part of a solution, and thank you for recognizing the incredible value and impact of a single positive relationship.  

In the spirit of raising awareness, I encourage you to use your personal platform and your voice to educate the people around you about the harsh reality affecting the nearly 437,000 children that are growing up in our foster care system.  Awareness is the birthplace of change; it is where we must start.  Whether you are a current or former advocate, a donor, supporter, volunteer, or simply one who subscribes to the CASA mission, as a member of our CASA OC community, each of you is an agent of change for foster youth.  These children are relying on us to show up for them, and we know that showing up will help make a difference.  

With gratitude,

Regan Dean Phillips, Esq., MSW
CASA-OC Chief Executive Officer

CASA Spotlight - Kim Cashin

This month we shine our spotlight on Advocate Kim Cashin!

Kim is an avid mentor and advocate to two foster youth. She is patient, understanding, and meets her CASA youth where they are at. Kim first heard about the CASA program several years ago while she attended jury duty. She admired the CASA’s mission and knew she wanted to become involved with an organization that worked with foster children. She was originally interested in becoming a foster parent and thought that a program like CASA would help give her insight in what the role of a foster parent might look like. Her friend is also a CASA in Orange County and has only heard positive things about the program from her. CASA seemed to be the right balance for her and decided to move forward with volunteering at CASA. 

Kim was sworn-in at CASA OC in December 2019, right before the pandemic. She was matched with her first CASA youth in January 2020. She was able to meet with him in person, but once the pandemic hit, she was forced to connect with her CASA youth virtually. It was difficult to do, but eventually her diligent efforts paid off. 

Kim’s first case started off as very challenging. It was very difficult to connect with him. She met John* when he was 16 years old a couple months before the pandemic. She describes John as polite, respectful, curious, and a philosopher. At first, he showed interest in going out with his new CASA. Then, he stopped showing up when she came to pick him up at his placement and did not want to do anything with her anymore. Kim kept showing up for him, but once the pandemic started the challenge became more significant. Faced with a challenge no one really knew how to navigate, she did what she knew best- she kept showing that she cared about him. She called the group home every week to check in on him, even though he usually would not come to the phone. The challenge continued, but Kim did not give up. Kim leaned on her case supervisor, Steph, for advice on how to best engage with John. Kim sent him letters and gift packages in the mail in addition to monthly telephone calls. It was not enough. Finally, when John was forced to move to a group home out of county in Northern California, Kim went to visit him.  After a very long trip there, she arrived at his placement and John was surprisingly happy to see her. They sat out in the front yard of his placement and played games, like Monopoly Deal. John is very particular about time, but time did not matter to him when Kim came to visit him that day. Kim expressed that this was the turning point in their relationship. Kim’s persistence paid off and since that visit in Northern California, they continue to see each other regularly. He currently lives in a group home in Southern California and Kim visits him often. So many adults have let him down in the past that it is hard for John to open up to people. Kim feels like they now have a good relationship and can be silly around each other.

In addition to developing a trusting relationship with John, Kim also helps him advocate for his needs. Distance learning during the pandemic was not a good fit for John. He did not like attending virtual classes and did not engage during classes. John wanted to take independent study courses instead of attending a public school. So, Kim assisted him in making this happen. Kim worked with the group home and other players on his team to figure out how to help him become successful in school. Kim also taught him how to speak up for what he wanted and to advocate for himself. With Kim’s efforts, he started independent study a couple months ago and is doing well so far.

With the pandemic and uncertainty in whether Kim’s first CASA youth would want to continue with her, Kim decided to take on another case in the interim. Kevin* met Kim one year ago in April 2020. He is nine years old and has been through quite a lot of trauma. Kim describes Kevin as a silly, active, creative, and kind-hearted boy who suffers from anxiety. Kevin lives with his mother and does not like leaving her side. Kevin does not seem to enjoy engaging with his father and does not like going on Zoom because he associates it with his father (visitation with his father was originally over Zoom). Because of this, Kim and Kevin would Facetime instead, playing virtual games with one another and talking about various subjects. He calls her randomly to chat and invited her to his birthday party. He was quick to open up with Kim and was very chatty from the start of their relationship. 

Though Kim connected with Kevin from day one, it was still challenging for Kim because Kevin did not want to leave his mother’s side. Kevin has anxiety and does not like to be away from his mother. Once CASA policy allowed for CASAs to have in-person visits again during 2020, Kim started to visit Kevin at his mother’s house every month. At first, Kevin did not want to go anywhere with Kim other than his front yard. He would constantly ask Kim if his mother could join them and he would always call out to his mother to make sure she was still near him during visits, sometimes he would run into his house just to give his mother a hug. His mother continued to encourage Kevin to go places with Kim. They continued to play games together right outside of his house, until he finally agreed to an outing with Kim. Their first outing consisted of Kevin riding his bike around the neighborhood and Kim walking alongside him. His mother continues to reassure him that she will be there when he comes back from his outings, but he is able to go out with Kim alone now. Getting Kevin to go out alone with her has been her greatest success so far on this case. 

Kim has been an exceptional advocate for Kevin in court. Kim listens to his wants and needs and reports these to his social worker as well as his attorney. She has been his voice in court. Initially, there were concerns that his mother was coaching him on what to say about his father. But, in time, Kim figured out that Kevin wanted to be spend more time with his mother and less time with his father. He does not enjoy spending every weekend with his father and has a hard time sleeping at his father’s house. At the last court hearing, Kim advocated for Kevin to spend more time with his mother on the weekends because he told Kim he wanted this. Initially, he had visitation with his father every weekend but now, because of Kim’s advocacy in court, he is able to be with his mother every other weekend.

Throughout Kim’s experience as a CASA so far, she has learned to be patient and persistent. Relationships take time. If you do not feel like you are doing anything, just know that if you show up and show interest you are doing more than you realize. Kim expressed that, “though this line of volunteer work can be difficult at times, it can also be rewarding and encountering all types of people who are trying to help these kids as best they can gives me more appreciation and perspective for this line of work and I am happy to help these kids not be alone”. She is grateful to be a part of CASA and is especially grateful for the guidance and support from her case supervisor, Steph.

*Name changed to protect confidentiality.

Kim’s case supervisor, Steph Bazurto, says “Kim began her CASA journey assigned to a youth who was showing resistance to making a connection. While she did not want to give up on this youth, Kim was presented with the option to take on a second, short term case as it was unknown if her youth was going to remain open to CASA. Kim accepted the second case, and a little over a year later, she is tirelessly doing an outstanding job managing both cases and remaining dedicated and committed to each of them. Kim is ready to jump in when and where she is needed to advocate for each of her cases. She is child focused, patient, kind, and a team player. I truly appreciate and admire Kim for the overall representation she brings to her role as a CASA”.

Josette Noelle

LocalTeen girl aims to help charity through inspiring song

Singer-songwriter releases first original song in hopes to gain awareness and funds

for chosen charity to help children


OrangeCounty, CA ─ Josette Noelle releases her first original song,“One Human Race,” accompanied by an emotional video to help tell a story about struggle, love and hope. Josette wrote the song in the summer of 2020 when she was experiencing a lot of emotions from everything going on in the world. She was extremely uncomfortable watching and hearing the way people were treating one another and wrote her thoughts on paper that would eventually become this beautiful, inspiring song.


Through her song,Josette would like to create awareness and raise funds for Court AppointedSpecial Advocates (CASA) to help children. We invite you to go to to see her music video, learn more about her project and make a secure tax-deductible donation of any amount to this life-changing charity by June 1, 2021. You will then receive a link to download “One Human Race.” She is giving 100% of proceeds to CASA.


There are many ways for people to connect with the song, whether you’ve experienced racism, a hate crime, the loss of a loved one, feeling alone, or just having a hard time in life. “The song is intended to uplift people and help inspire them to take action. There are many obstacles we face in our lives, but in the end, we need to show love and care for everyone around us - like one human race should,” said Josette.  


Josette is a 15-year-old high school freshman residing inSouthern California, originally from Seattle, WA. She has enjoyed singing and writing songs since a very young age. When she moved to Orange County, she was involved with Center Stage Studio (CSS), Mission Viejo, CA in their musical theatre program. She is currently in the choir program at her school and takes music lessons at Music Vault Academy, Mission Viejo, CA. Josette plays volleyball, enjoys skiing and is dedicated to helping others. She is a member of the National Charity League (NCL) and is a two-time Presidential Award recipient for hours served to help charities in the local area. She is also a member of the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Teens Club at her school.


“One HumanRace” is also available on various music platforms, including Apple Music andSpotify.


Go to to help change a child’s story.

CASA Spotlight - Stacy Montanez

This month we shine our spotlight on Advocate Stacy Montanez!

A trip to Fashion Island in the fall of 2019, turned out to be more than a shopping day for Stacy when she stopped by an information booth and learned about the CASA OC program and felt a tug in her heart. Soon after, she began the process of becoming a Court Appointed Special Advocate. Stacy has always been cognizant that children are our future. This awareness has given her a special interest in giving back. So after learning about CASA’s mission, Stacy took a step forward to give back, help out, and contribute to make the life of youth in foster care a little better and brighter. 

And that is exactly what Stacy is doing for *Amber, her 16 year old CASA youth. Stacy had only had one in-person visit before  the pandemic onset. She admits that it has not been easy to make and maintain a connection since Amber is much more open in person than through texts and phone calls, but the timing to meet the challenges of the virtual setting was impeccable because of her background and skills in virtual teams management. She used those skills to build trust and consistency with Amber. However, there was a time when Stacy felt she was losing connection with Amber. She continued to press on. Her approach to build trust and connection has been her consistency with virtual visits and asking the type of questions that give Amber an opportunity to share what’s on her mind. Amber knows that Stacy is a good listener and advocate for her. Stacy is continually aware of the importance of knowing that we cannot fix everything for our CASA youth and that at times one may feel overwhelmed wanting to fix certain situations. So Stacy focuses on helping Amber think through difficult situations and problem-solve strategies thus empowering her to self-advocate whenever possible.  Stacy shares that she makes sure to validate Amber’s perspective while at the same time she imparts a long view of life and makes herself available to be Amber’s shoulder to lean on during those raw moments in life. From the beginning of their relationship, Stacy made herself available to Amber and was able to create reasonable expectations and boundaries which are part of their healthy relationship.

A poignant moment in Stacy’s experience as a CASA was when Amber wrote a paper for school in which Amber shared her experiences in foster care and how if it had not been for her CASA, she would not be alive today. Stacy recalls this as an incredible moment of truly being the only reliable person in Amber’s life during that very dark time. Stacy’s consistency, availability, reliability, advocacy, and mentoring has been a lifeline for Amber. 

One of Stacy’s victories in advocating for Amber is that she has empowered her when her emotional needs are not being met and when it’s okay to not be okay. Stacy also gently emphasizes the value of honesty being a two-way street and how being honest is a sign of maturity. Stacy has also seen advocacy victories in the area of education, but by far the greatest success is the way she has been able to bond with Amber considering the context of the pandemic. During the past year, there were moments when Stacy says she wanted to give up due to the lack of face-to-face contact, but she pressed on and now she enjoys receiving messages from Amber on special days such as Mother’s Day, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day.

Stacy also shares that her biggest challenge in being a CASA is creating healthy boundaries because she knows she’s the type of person who likes to give 110% and is a fixer, especially when it comes to caring for others. But she knows where her CASA responsibilities end and is able to draw boundary lines.

Stacy would like other CASAs to know that anything you can give back, even if it’s one small thing to help someone else, you have made a difference. She advises to take it one step at a time and not to expect a deep relationship immediately.  She also wisely advises not to do it for self benefit, but to do it for others. This is especially helpful during the tough moments when one does not feel rewarded or appreciated.

What Stacy likes the most about being a CASA is helping to make a difference in someone’s life and advocating when that someone can’t advocate for herself. When asked about her least favorite aspect of being a CASA, Stacy candidly shared that she does not enjoy having to enter notes in Optima! She works a lot of hours and deals with emails and meetings all day so the last thing she wants to do is to get into Optima. But she understands its importance and pushes herself to do it. As we spoke, she remembered that she is getting ready to write her second court report so she is aware that being able to look back at her notes in Optima will be helpful.

Being a CASA, Stacy shared, has impacted her life in more than one way, but more so in her growing awareness of the issues foster children face.  She feels that she’s become more empathetic and understanding that not everyone has the same experiences.

As we closed our conversation, Stacy shared a few final words of advice for her fellow CASAs. She advised to go in without high expectations for what the first meeting would look like. Be patient and don’t be hard on yourself. Ask thoughtful open ended questions and give the children time to express themselves. Listen. Don’t be judgmental. We don’t have all the answers, but we can help guide them through the process of finding answers. 

Stacy was able to succeed in building a positive relationship with Amber, despite the pandemic and its restrictions. Now that the world is opening up, she is excited and looks forward to what the future holds being able to meet in person, have outings, and hopefully attend CASA events in the near future.

*Name changed to protect confidentiality.

Stacy’s supervisor, Natalie Stack, shares: “Stacy is a phenomenal CASA! This past year has been very difficult for her youth, and Stacy is always there for her when she needs to talk. Stacy meets her where she is at and is able to fiercely advocate for her when needed. She is her youth's one constant when no one is in her corner. Stacy is compassionate, empathetic, patient, and understanding. I am lucky to have her on my caseload and I very much so enjoy working with her. Wonderful job, Stacy!”

CASA Spotlight - Marie Takeshita

This month we shine our spotlight on Advocate Marie Takeshita!

Marie has been a CASA since 2018 and has been with the same youth since the start of her CASA journey. Marie is a dedicated advocate and mentor to her youth, Layla* and knows the importance of being a consistent person in a youth’s life. Marie decided to volunteer at CASA during a time in her life where she wanted to give back in a way that was more hands on than her previous volunteer roles. When she read about CASA in the L.A.Times it caught her eye and was curious to learn more about this unique volunteer opportunity. Once she was sworn-in as a CASA, she was eager to meet her case supervisor and start on a case.

Layla was taken into foster care due to failure to protect. She has been in the foster care system since 2016. In 2019, Layla, who was 14 years old at the time, met her CASA, Marie. She wanted a CASA for awhile and was thrilled to have finally been matched with one.

Layla is Marie’s first and current CASA youth match. Marie knew Layla was nervous when they were first introduced as she was shy and her palms were sweaty. Marie tried her best to make her feel comfortable with her since she was essentially a stranger at the time. Marie met her where she was at and was able to build rapport with Layla by asking her questions about herself and getting to know her interests. One of the best games they played to get know each other more is “Ungame”. Ungame helped to break the ice and get them talking about certain topics that lead to other topics and discussions. Layla loved playing this game with her CASA and it seemed to help her open up to Marie. Marie highly recommends this game to otherCASAs who are just starting on a case or who need a tool to start conversations with their youth.

Layla loves to listen to music, to cook, and to sing and dance. Before the pandemic, Marie often took Layla to the CASA kitchen so that they could cook meals together. Layla loved to make lemon bread for her foster mom and was interested in learning how to make different Mexican dishes.Marie describes Layla as a sweet and smart girl who worships her mother. Layla is desperate for love and attention from her mother who, unfortunately, does not give it to her in return. Her mother does not treat her well and it is painful for Marie to see this knowing she cannot protect her from the pain.Layla indicated to Marie that she might want to live with her mother once she turns 18. Though Marie does not want this for Layla, Marie has no control over her decisions. Whatever she chooses to do, Marie will continue to show up for Layla as she has done for her over the past two and half years.  

For Marie, one of the most frustrating parts about being a CASA is learning how to work within the system. Learning about the cracks in the foster care system have been eye-opening for Marie and even more challenging knowing that there is only so much she can do as an advocate. Layla’s placement disruption and frequent school changes are the two most apparent disruptions Marie has seen since becoming a CASA. When Marie first met Layla, she seemed innocent, naïve, and young. Since her time in foster care she has been to multiple group homes where she learned how to work the system. She has been in and out of ten placements since 2016. Layla has been at her current placement for about one year now which is the longest she’s ever stayed at one placement since coming into foster care. Prior to living in group homes, she never missed school and turned in her assignments on time. Last year, Layla chose not to go to school most days and her group home did not force her to go.Because of that, Layla missed a majority of the school year and is now working on catching up in assignments to get back on track with her grades. Layla’s frequent placement disruptions have also resulted in several school changes.Layla is currently at her third high school and she is only a sophomore. When she moves schools, she has to start all over again- new environment, new classmates, new teachers, etc. It is a huge adjustment for any teenager, but it is especially challenging for someone like Layla who is in foster care and has no support system to lean on.

Marie has been a strong advocate for Layla in the school setting. She attends her IEP meetings and, since the start of the pandemic, she often sets up virtual meetings with Layla’s teachers to discuss her progress in school. Marie tries as a CASA to encourage Layla’s team to find a support system for Layla at the school.  She believes the team needs to do a better job helping her assimilate to a new school and environment as it is the worst time in someone’s life to be isolated. Layla seems to like school now. She was failing all her classes last November, but she is now passing most of her classes. Marie believes that being in-person for her schooling really makes a difference as she never paid attention to her virtual classes last year. Marie knows Layla can succeed if she puts her mind to it, so she continues to encourage her to attend classes and try her best.

Marie’s greatest success on her case so far is creating a strong bond with her CASA youth and knowing that Layla wants her to continue to be in her life. Layla will call her CASA randomly just to talk and will even ask Marie at times if she can adopt her. Marie shared that Layla really has no one else besides her CASA and the team on her caseload- her family blames her for breaking up the family, her mom comes and goes, and her dad has been in jail for over 10 years.

Since the pandemic started, it has been difficult for Marie to communicate with Layla as she does not enjoy video calls. Before the pandemic, they had a weekend routine which included breakfast together at their favorite bagel place. Now, Marie tries to make that happen by delivering bagels to her at her group home on Sundays when she is able to.

Marie believes that the most important piece of advice for other CASAs is to stay committed to your youth and go into this role knowing that as a CASA, you can only do so much in your role as an advocate. Marie feels that being a CASA is all-inclusive: it is eye-opening, rewarding, frustrating, emotionally draining at times, and gratifying. Marie enjoys knowing that she is making a difference in one child’s life, but at the same time, she is also frustrated feeling like she cannot make enough of a difference. Marie says that ultimately the most important part about being a CASA is to be a consistent adult in your youth’s life- to show up when you say you will and to show them that they matter to you. Marie expressed that “if you do not commit to your youth then you are just another person in their life who has come and gone. Having a support system is key and these kids do not have that 99% of the time”. Marie truly enjoys being a CASA to Layla and being her CASA changed her life for the better.

*Name changed to protect confidentiality.

Marie’s supervisor, Donna Doocy, shares: “Marie is an amazing advocate. She has been with her youth for two years now. Her youth has been through a few placements during this time and Marie has tirelessly advocated for her placements and education. This was not always an easy task as there were many obstacles and frustrations along the way, but Marie hung in there and fought for her youth who really has no one else. Marie has a great sense of humor and I can tell her youth appreciates this as well. Marie gets her documentation in on time and her court reports are well written and thoughtful. Overall, Marie embodies the role of a CASA with grace and style. It is truly a pleasure to work with her!”

CASA Spotlight - Gabe Nava

This month we shine our spotlight on Advocate Gabe Nava!

Gabe’s heart for foster kids has led him in various paths and eventually in the path of becoming a CASA. As a foster parent for three years, Gabe and his wife experienced firsthand what it’s like to care for a child who has been abused, abandoned, or neglected. In time, Gabe became aware of our program through the various connections in the foster care system. Gabe recalls that once he found out for himself more about our mission, he was sold out immediately. More than anything, Gabe liked the idea of the two-year commitment to provide a stable and possible permanent connection to a child in the foster care system. It was an easy decision, says Gabe, who has now been a CASA for nearly six years!

Gabe’s enthusiasm and perseverance is exactly what *Mike, his CASA youth, needs since Mike’s past traumatic experiences have damaged his ability to trust. Gabe shares that Mike does not trust anyone, but through patient mentorship, Gabe has been able to see little glimpses of progress toward building a trusting relationship. Gabe shares that the one thing Mike relies on is their consistent visits which have been every other week for the past four years, with just a few exceptions. Gabe’s positive outlook helps him to focus on the steps forward and not on the setbacks. You see, Mike is not expressive, but that is just part of his personality and past experiences. There is no huge display of emotion. Smiles are hard to come by, but every so often, Gabe has been able to get him to show a smile. Gabe is confident that their connection is growing since Mike has mentioned to others that his CASA is an important part of his life and he is never declined an outing or visit. Gabe just keeps showing up and accepts that Mike is a quiet, shy guy.

As far as Gabe’s style of mentorship and advocacy, he says he likes straight talk and open/honest conversations. Gabe’s aim is to be reliable and to communicate well with Mike so that he may also serve as a role model for him. Speaking of straight talk, Gabe shared that the current pandemic has set him back in terms of the progress in nurturing the CASA/youth relationship. However, Gabe feels fortunate that Mike does not have huge mental health challenges. Yet the lack of in-person contact has made it difficult to maintain good communication with Mike, who is already prone to being reserved. Gabe says that it’s hard to gage how Mike is really feeling, but he is staying the course is doing his best to come up with creative ways to connect. Gabe is also comforted knowing that Mike is now living with family members and seems to be doing well. They look forward to the time when they can resume their adventures together.

Gabe and Mike’s have a unique tradition which began when Gabe discovered what kind of food Mike was most interested in to try on their first outing – tamales. Mike was only nine years old so Gabe was surprised. Gabe made their first meal a special one by going for tamales at El Cholo Restaurant. This was the beginning of their quest to try foods from all cultures. To date, they’ve eaten their way through every continent, including unique cultures that are not well-known. Gabe takes the time to research the internet to find international foods in the area. Their taste buds are very adventurous and usually finish their meals with maybe one or two exceptions. Gabe recalls that Mike was 11 years old when he tried Sushi for the first time and loved it! They also rate their meals with thumbs up, down, or sideways and take a selfie to document their adventure. They plan to get a map they can mark up with all the different countries they’ve “visited” in a culinary way. Looking back, they’ve noticed that 90% of their ratings are thumbs up. Since they’ve exhausted almost every option in OC, they are now experimenting varieties within a particular dish, like various kinds of BBQ. Gabe wanted to emphasize that this tradition is clearly child-driven and that he’s just enjoying the ride! 

Navigating the foster care system, is not a ride in which a child should feel alone. Gabe is there to stand with Mike when events have fallen through creating disappointment and loss. Gabe wants Mike to feel empowered so he created a yearly tradition to go over their “CASA Contract.” Gabe and Mike review three main points on their CASA anniversary:  1) As a volunteer, I’m here because I want to be here; 2) Mike is not stuck with Gabe; Mike can fire Gabe at any time, but needs to give him a good reason; 3) Mike can trust that Gabe will keep things confidential, unless it is a safety issue. Year after year, Gabe would uphold this tradition, but this year it was Mike who reminded Gabe that it was time to review their contract which is actually a piece of paper with their signatures. This “contract” will go into the scrapbook Gabe is putting together for Mike along with hundreds of mementos.

Being a CASA is very special and it comes with certain responsibilities which are not always necessarily fun, Gabe said. Court report writing, for example, would be Gabe’s least favorite task. However, in his usual positive outlook, Gabe says that it can be a good exercise of reflection and that he always feels good after writing his court reports which he calls “Reflections Report.” to make it sound more enjoyable. As to his favorite thing about being a CASA, Gabe says that there are too many positives, but one thing he would highlight is the support he gets at CASA, especially from his supervisor. Gabe feels understood, supported, and appreciated by his supervisor, Kari Becker. Most of all, Gabe feels rewarded to be Mike’s CASA. Gabe goes on to say that the more he gives, the more he receives. His time and resources spent, including the uncomfortable moments, can’t compare to the rewarding feeling he gets after every visit. “It’s a reciprocal nature of volunteering,” Gabe says.

Gabe would like to encourage other CASAs to be creative in figuring out what will make your mentee click. Gabe advises to look for clues, observe your kids, and ask questions about the things they like or dislike. Gabe also advises to be patient through the uncomfortableness of silence. Meet them where they're at and remember to focus not so much on their age but their stage. Speaking of creativity, Gabe wanted to share that his next adventure with Mike is to attend a cooking class together, once the world opens up again!

*Name changed to protect confidentiality.

Gabe’s supervisor, Kari Becker, shares: “Gabe Nava has been a CASA for nearly 6! I have had the pleasure of overseeing and working with Gabe on his case for about 2 years. Gabe is patient and kind, and that has successfully helped him develop a wonderful relationship with his youth. Something that is so unique about Gabe and his youth's relationship is that (pre-COVID) they would eat their way around the world. Each visit they would converse over a meal from a different country. This has opened up his youth's world and exposed him to so many different cultures, over something so simple: a meal. After each meal, they take a picture with either a thumbs up, thumbs down, or thumbs to the side, rating the meal. Through this adventure together, I have seen their relationship blossom, especially his youth, who rarely shows any emotion or word. I am certain that this special bond will continue on for the many years to come. I constantly hear praises about Gabe from all the professionals and caregivers involved in this case. Thank you Gabe, for being so devoted to CASA, you are a gem!

CASA Spotlight - Patty Rodriguez

This month we shine our spotlight on Advocate Patty Rodriguez!

Patty has been a CASA since 2015.  She first heard about CASA when her friend told her about the program. They started chatting more about CASA and discussed how volunteers mentor and advocate for children in the foster care system. Patty started to volunteer in her community early on in her adult life, so when her friend informed her about the CASA program it piqued her interest right away. She decided to attend an information session shortly after. Once she attended the information session, she knew she wanted to volunteer at CASA. 

Patty has been on the same case since she started her journey as a CASA in 2015. Her CASA youth, Maria*, was 12 years old when she first met Patty. She is now 17 years old and will be 18 in February 2021.

Patty describes her CASA youth as smart, loyal, curious, resilient, funny, and a bit stubborn at times. She enjoys learning, has a passion for music and history and likes going on adventures with her CASA. WhenPatty first met Maria, she was very reserved and did not seem to want to share anything with her CASA. Patty was very patient with her and knew she had to develop trust with her first. It wasn’t until after about six months that Maria started to open up during each outing.

Patty soon learned that Maria had not been exposed to much before she met her CASA. She had never been anywhere besides her hometown of Santa Ana. Maria had never gone to the beach before, so Patty took her to the beach one day for the first time. She was afraid of the waves and thought that she would drown if she got too close. Patty reassured her that would not happen and that she was safe with her.  Patty would also take her on “scenic” tours of Orange County and every time Maria was fascinated by what she saw- she was amazed at what else was out there in the world other than what was in her hometown. They still love to go on car rides together to see places Maria has never seen before as it is their favorite activity to do together. One of Patty’s favorite memories with Maria was when they went to visit Mission San Juan Capistrano. Maria loved exploring the mission and was intrigued by the Spanish history of the mission and the culture. Patty can’t wait to go on another adventure with Maria once they are allowed to go on outings again like the Mexican American museum and Olivera Street in downtown Los Angeles.

Patty could tell early on in their relationship that Maria had a truly kind heart and cared about others. One of their first outings was to a pizza place in Anaheim. Maria loved ordering the pepperoni pizza and piled parmesan cheese on top of her pizza every time. She often took home whatever she did not eat to share the rest with her brothers. As their relationship progressed over the years, Maria eventually learned about her CASA’s mother because Patty would often be out of town visiting her. Maria would always ask Patty how her mother was doing and when Patty’s mother passed away, Maria was there for Patty and asked to spend time with her at her mother’s grave. She knew how much Patty missed her mother and wanted to be there for her CASA just like her CASA was there for her during all these years.

Even though Maria did not tell her a lot in the beginning, she knew that with time Maria would be able to do so as long as Patty left an open door for her to talk. Patty does not force her to talk or to make decisions based on what Patty thinks she should do. In fact, Patty approaches these moments with patience and an understanding that they are not always going to agree. Patty meets her where she is at and hopes for the best outcome. In fact, at one point in time, Maria went AWOL and the one person she called was her CASA when she was ready to go back to her placement. Patty always told Maria that she could tell her anything and that whatever situation she was in they would figure it out together.

Over the five years Patty has been Maria’s CASA, Patty has seen her grow into the beautiful, strong young woman she is today. She is assertive and continues to be curious about life. For example, Maria is able advocate for herself as recently demonstrated when Maria wanted to move to a foster home. She was able to advocate for a placement change and is now in a foster home where she has shown maturity and growth. Since the pandemic, Maria has been able to reflect on her life and how important her CASA is to her. She knows that her CASA will always be by her side and appreciates that Patty is still in her life. Though they are not allowed to go on adventures together right now, they have reminisced about some of their favorite outings and they like to talk on the phone regularly.

Patty explained that the most important thing to remember about being a CASA is to continue to show up for your CASA youth and to be there for them through everything no matter what the circumstances may be. Patty shares that Maria recently told her that she “is the only one that has been there for [her] through everything”. Patty always let Maria know she was in her youth’s corner and Maria really appreciated hearing that from her CASA. Patty also expressed how grateful she is to have met Maria in 2015 and that she feels incredibly fortunate to have been on the same case the entire time she has been a CASA. She knows that the special bond she has with her youth, Maria, is rare, unique, and irreplaceable.

*Name changed to protect confidentiality.

Patty’s supervisor, Yariza Amaton, shares: “In Patty's 5 years of service to our program she has been assigned to the same young lady. Her level of commitment and ardency to the CASA mission has been apparent through her CASA work. Patty has been there for her young lady through all of her ups and downs and various placement changes. I am always humbled by Patty's level of heedfulness to her youth and her needs. Regardless of her own personal life needs and demands, she has remained present for her youth. Thank you, Patty for being an astounding advocate and allowing me to share this voyage with you.” 

A Hobby Can Save a Life

The following is an opinion piece from a former CASA volunteer, Briana DeFranco:

Suicide among children and youth, especially those in foster care, was a concern prior to the pandemic. The disconnectedness in a COVID world requires us to be even more vigilant on this front. Schools may close, CASA visits may be suspended, and our youth may not be permitted to see biological relatives, friends, teachers, or therapists. Until the pandemic resolves the potential exists for a breakdown within the scope of care and attention we usually provide, but the children we serve do not have the luxury of waiting for such a resolution.

If our CASA youth undertake hobbies they may assume a positive new way of regarding themselves and experience a reduction in stress, anger, fear, depression, and hopelessness. The hobby itself is enjoyable and is a new skill learned, but there are secondary benefits as well. A hobby becomes a vehicle for positively coping with emotions and is an outlet always available to comfort them when nothing or no one else can.

The most well-suited hobbies for our CASA children are those that can move with them and cost little to nothing: knitting, chess, reading, yoga and meditation, drawing, and creative writing are just some that hit these marks.

The soothing repetition of knitting thrusts the holder of yarn and needles into a somewhat meditative state where mindfulness can be achieved. Knitting has an organic way of keeping the knitter’s thoughts affixed to the task at hand, and the tactile factor and colors of the yarn can be especially pleasing to the senses. Knitting has been used as a therapeutic tool for veterans suffering from PTSD as well as inmates in prison. As a knitter I understand the appeal of such a hobby for those suffering emotional or mental strain, but I also see knitting as a preventative measure.

Knitting can be learned at a very young age: my daughter finished a simple scarf when she was just 7-years-old. Scarves are not the extent of the wonderful world of knitting. There are patterns for toys, jewelry, handbags; the possibilities are truly endless. Some first steps in getting your CASA child started with knitting are to watch tutorials online, pick up a knitting book at the library, or visit a local yarn shop. The latter is the most ideal because they’ll advise you on which yarn and needles to buy, they’ll have the necessary items in their shop, and they’ll get you started with the actual knitting part. Something your CASA youth can look forward to: in a post-COVID world they may be able to start their own knitting group and meet regularly with like-minded peers either at school or places in the community. Knitting can be done alone or with others, and it can be done anywhere and anytime. is the best resource for all things knitting.

Activities requiring nothing beyond the self are yoga and meditation. Yoga. Meditation. Mindfulness. These may be terms we’re beginning to hear more often but they are not new-age concepts. Stretching and doing dynamic movements, or sitting quietly and attempting to clear the mind, have been practices done for many years. The library has books and there are videos online that can coach you through yoga sequences and meditation exercises.

Sometimes a tool can be helpful in achieving mindfulness. In the realm of meditation there is something called mala. Mala is a collection of beads strung into a bracelet or necklace to be removed for meditation and held in the hand. One-by-one the beads are rotated while breathing in and out or even repeating a mantra of one’s choosing. This is a simple item that a child can always have on hand to cope with challenging emotions. Mala bracelets and necklaces can be made at home, or they can be found online, especially on

Chess is simply a classic. Contrary to myth, being a prodigy is not a prerequisite to this incredibly fun critical thinking activity. Chess can be done by playing against the computer on a website like Of course chess can be played with someone else in person, but if physical distancing remains a concern it can be played against a friend at the aforementioned website. An inexpensive travel-size board can be found online, and an accompanying book explaining the moves and rules would be most helpful in getting started.

Guided creative writing books are another easy hobby that require nothing more than the book, and a pen or pencil. There are two in particular that I have personal experience with: Write Your Own Book (for grades 3-7) and Rip the Page (for grades 4 and up). The writing can be completed in the book itself and the exercises are fun, inspiring, and thought provoking. Both of the books mentioned can be found online.

Guided activities solve the problem of how a child will take on a new hobby without assistance, and drawing by this method is another possibility. It’s simple enough to give pencil and paper to a child and advise them to draw or create art, but for the distracted or upset child, guided drawing provides a specific goal and correlating steps to achieve that goal.

If your CASA child does not take a liking to any of these suggestions, then attempt to discover what her interests are. Is there something she likes that she can learn to do or produce on her own? For example, if he likes a favorite show, encourage him to write a script for one of his own. If she enjoys listening to music, encourage her to write her own lyrics.

Let’s give our CASA children something they can do with their hands and minds, something to be proud of, something to take with them no matter where they go or what their present circumstances are. Let’s give them a constant in a world that is always evolving. We may not be able to completely change their external environment, but we can help them grow and flourish within themselves. A hobby keeps the hands and mind busy and it makes the heart smile. Give them a hobby and save their lives.

Briana DeFranco

Briana DeFranco was a CASA during the early 2000s and has been living around the country and abroad since then. She homeschools three of her four children and drew upon work with her CASA child and motherhood as a source of inspiration for this article. She is currently a freelance writer and cannot recall what she did in her free time before she learned to knit and sew.

CASA Spotlight - Katie Burnett

This month we shine our spotlight on Advocate Katie Burnett!

Twelve years ago, Katie sat at a courthouse waiting to be called for jury duty and felt bored. She then picked up and read a pamphlet about CASA and felt that the program was made for her! Little did she know that in that moment of boredom, she was about to start a journey that is now in its 12th year and counting. Her longevity in serving as long as she has at CASA shows Katie’s approach to her cases and her service in general: she is committed and steady. Katie’s desire is to be there for kiddos who really need someone in their corner.

Katie’s first three CASA youths were teen girls whose personalities and circumstances were very different from one another. Katie remained committed to them through good times and challenging times. Those challenging times are inevitable given the trauma and loss of youth in foster care. After those first three CASA matches which involved delinquency issues, family dynamics, and nonminor dependent issues, Katie was open to take the case of a little five year old girl with big dreams to someday be adopted. Katie was matched with Joelle* in the spring of 2018. Joelle’s challenges have a different form than previous cases. Joelle is an open book, loves everybody, and longs to belong to a family. Katie has provided a steady presence in her life. Joelle knows that Katie is coming back, no matter where Joelle is placed. After two failed adoptions, Joelle is dealing with the aftermath of great loss and abandonment, but she can count on Katie showing up for her. Katie recalls that on their very first solo visit Joelle ran away from Katie while they were at the park. That incident did not deter Katie from her commitment to keep showing up while finding ways to keep Joelle safe during outings. Katie is able to remain flexible to meet the needs of the children she serves.

Behind the scenes, Katie has continued to show up for Joelle by collaborating with social services to build a strong team around this little girl. Further, when there was no other individual in her life to take educational rights, Katie stepped up to fill in the need to ensure Joelle is receiving appropriate educational supports. Even through the pandemic, Katie is proud to say that the team was able to get Joelle’s IEP educational goals reviewed and completed. 

The biggest challenge for Katie in her CASA role is to understand the things she cannot control such as when the child is not receiving the proper care or when someone has hurt the child. But Katie remembers that she just needs to keep showing up, even the child appears to reject her attempts. Katie recalls an example of this when one of her CASA youths called her at 9 p.m. the night before her high school graduation to ask her to attend. Katie knew the date and had kept that date open on her calendar just waiting for her youth to initiate the invitation. That was a big success, just being available for the child! Katie also commented that it’s important to be kind to yourself, especially during dry periods of communication. She does her best not to take it personally or to be too hard on herself.

Katie loves spending time with her CASA youth – “That’s the fun part,” she said. Those moments when you are just having fun with the kids are the moments when you get to see the best part of them. Katie recalls that her first CASA youth appeared tough as court reports described her, but it was neat to see the youth’s best when Katie took her to an art museum. This was a first for this youth. This was an amazing experience for the youth and for Katie to watch her youth enjoy her first art museum experience. Another example was taking her youth to a Thanksgiving dinner for the first time. Katie loves experiencing with them “firsts” and listening to them describe the world around them, like the rain on the leaves. Going camping would not be something a city girl like Katie would do, but she signed up for a camping trip with one of her teen CASA girls because she knew it was important for her. 

Although writing court reports is not the most fun part of being a CASA, Katie does a great job with this. Her court reports are informative and well documented with pictures to show the judge a side of the child that only a CASA is able to show.  Her least favorite part of cases is the times when there have to be team meetings to discuss concerns. These are not pleasant experiences, but the CASA is there to be the voice of the child to ensure the child’s perspective is highlighted.

As a teacher, Katie shared that CASA has helped her have a broader view of her students, especially those who appear too hard or difficult. Being a CASA has opened up the way she looks at the kids in her classroom. Katie would like to tell other CASAs to just stick with it, keep showing up, be yourself, and listen to the child. Katie is a very independent CASA, but she has learned to rely on her case supervisor for emotional support, especially with Joelle’s case. Katie said that she really needed her and her case supervisor was there for her. 

Katie began her CASA journey with the mindset to serve 2 years and now here she is 12 years later. Katie said that the idea of helping somebody kept her coming back because it would be wrong not to do it. She says that if it is within her power to help others, she feels compelled to do it. Lastly, Katie said that the kids just need their advocates and being a CASA is just part of her life and her routine.

*Name changed to protect confidentiality.

Katie’s supervisor, Maureen Madison, shares this about her: Katie has been a faithful advocate and mentor for her young youth for over two and a half years.  During that time, Katie's youth has seen many changes in her placement, schools, social workers, and therapists and Katie has been the only stable team member. She is always child-focused and truly seeks out the best for her youth in every situation. At a recent meeting, her youth referred to her as "my Katie". Katie is a consistent, wise, responsible, and fun CASA for her youth.  We are so thankful to have her on the CASA OC team!

CASA Spotlight - Jason Holland

This month we shine our spotlight on Advocate Jason Holland!

Jason’s involvement with CASA started a few years ago. Jason was first introduced to the CASA program while working at Segerstrom for the Arts, as the non-profit works with numerous community partners and CASA is one of them. After understanding more about CASA’s mission and vision, Jason wanted to help spread the word in his community about CASA. He continues to do outreach for CASA and helps to connect other community partners with the program. One day, he stumbled upon a social media post about a strikingly high number of cases in the foster care system and the significant need for male CASAs. How could he keep looking away? Jason knew he wanted to give back in a more direct way, so he decided to become a CASA volunteer. That was two years ago. Nowadays, given the pandemic, Jason shows his support by wearing his CASA mask when going outside of his house. Throughout his involvement with CASA, he has developed a true passion for the CASA mission and his genuine compassion and dedication is demonstrated through his commitment to CASA outreach in his community as well as his role as a CASA volunteer supporting not one, but two foster youth simultaneously.

Jason was assigned to his first CASA case in 2018. His CASA youth, Seth*, was 16 at the time. Seth has been through a lot in his life and had to overcome many challenges. Since entering foster care in early 2018, he has moved to nine different placements, been hospitalized for mental health reasons, dealt with substance use issues, and recently ended up homeless for a short amount of time while living out of state. In addition, he has special needs in school and mental health needs that require medications.

Jason describes Seth as a smart and headstrong young man who is particular about what he shares with people as he has a harder time trusting people. He enjoys going to the movies and going to sports games with his CASA. He loves beat boxing so sometimes he and his CASA would just ride and listen to music while Seth would practice his beat boxing. Seth and Jason were able to go to a couple Angels baseball games and even get a tour of the stadium. One of the most memorable moments for Jason was when Seth video called him while he was living out of state. Seth is a major Dallas Cowboys football fan, so when was able to get a tour of the stadium the first thing he did was video call his CASA so he could share this phenomenal moment with Jason.

The hardest part about being a CASA for Jason is not being able to make decisions for his youth and just being an observer at times. With support from his case supervisor, Jason had to learn many times that he needed to step back in his role and let his youth do what he wants to do. Jason does not push his perspective on his youth and focuses on what makes Seth happy. Jason describes himself as a fixer, so learning how to adapt and change his expectations was a challenge for him. Jason has many hopes and aspirations for his youth, but success is different for everyone. Jason shares that “with Seth, success right now is having a roof over his head and not being homeless nor in jail”. Jason is there to support his youth no matter where his journey takes him. Right now, Jason is just trying to keep Seth safe, sober, and in a stable placement.

When Seth decided to move out of state to be with distant family members, Jason decided to support another foster youth given the fact that Seth’s case was probably going to close. However, Seth recently came back to Orange County and remains in the foster care system. Jason is still his CASA. Jason’s second CASA youth, Thomas* is 11 years old. He started working with Thomas in June. Jason is focusing on getting to know him and how to best support Thomas. Thomas is very talkative, and Jason is currently enjoying learning about Pokémon. Jason continues working with both boys and alternates seeing each youth every other week.

Jason’s advice to other CASAs is to keep showing up for their youth, even if it gets difficult. He also shares the value in attending CASA to CASA events. Coming in as a new CASA can be scary, so learning from seasoned CASAs can help shift the mindset of how one might think the case should be going.

Jason is a big supporter of CASA and all that it does not only for foster youth but also for the volunteers who serve the youth. Being a CASA has helped Jason understand the complexity of the life of a foster youth and is now able to see them for who they really are- beautiful, resilient, and exceptional young people who did not deserve what they went through. CASA is very important to Jason and shares that the “the value in time that someone makes to show up for someone is the heart and soul of what it means to be a CASA”.

*Name changed to protect confidentiality.

Jason's case supervisor, Karyn Quick, shares, “I have had the honor of supervising Jason Holland for the past two years. Jason is a caring, insightful, and fierce advocate for the two youth he is assigned to. I look forward to supporting and working with Jason in his CASA role. Thank you for your commitment to the CASA agency and foster youth.”

CASA’s chief communication officer, Matthew Wadlinger, shares, “CASA-OC is incredibly fortunate to have Jason Holland as a volunteer and supporter. I would describe Jason as an amazing advocate and mentor who is deeply analytical, compassionate, empathetic, funny, friendly and someone who is intrinsically motivated. I am incredibly proud and honored to have Jason as a part of our CASA-OC team and I hope that he continues to be a CASA volunteer for many years to come.”

CASA Celebration 2020 Virtual Gala



Matthew Wadlinger

Chief Communications Officer

(714) 619-5149

CASA Celebration of Children Black & White Ball

Nets Over $850k Through Drive Through Experience + Virtual Gala

Santa Ana, Calif. (October 1, 2020) – Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Orange County, held their annual Celebration of Children Black & White Ball, on Saturday, September 26, 2020, virtually for its 35th anniversary event! Over 250 guests tuned in to the livestream to support CASA’s mission of serving abused, abandoned, and neglected children in Orange County with a trained and supported volunteer advocate. This year’s Gala had a net of over $850,000. After having to postpone the original date of March 14th, 2020 due to COVID-19, the event was rescheduled and reformatted into a drive through experience for guests and sponsors prior to the evening’s live telecast. This unique and innovative way of experiencing the gala was overseen and executed by eight longtime CASA supporters who served as this year’s Chairs: Dana Chou, Nancy Eaton, Bobbie Howe, Tyler Mounce, Lourdes Nark, Urvashi Patel, Dana Strader and Wendy Tenebaum.

A cascading balloon arch 14 feet in the air welcomed sponsors and ticker holders to the afternoon drive through experience held in the parking lot of Fete The Venue in Costa Mesa, CA. The parking lot was beautifully transformed by the team at Elite OC Productions. CASA supporters took home stunning individually packaged three course meals (courtesy of Fork in the Road catering), spirits and were able to pick up any winning auction items. Floral arrangements, in hues of coral and white, matching the theme of the event, from Paul Fenner Floral Designs were given out to guests, and everyone had an opportunity to take their photograph in front of a beautifully designed floral step & repeat backdrop designed by Bleu Dahlia .

This year’s honorees included Edwards Lifesciences as Outstanding Corporation, The John Michael Engstrom Memorial Foundation as Outstanding Foundation, Holly and Mark Kerslake as Children’s Champions and Gary Conkle as Advocate of the Year. Gary Conkle’s Advocate of the Year acceptance speech included these excerpts from his CASA matches with two young men, Robert and Landon:

“Robert, himself, struggles with homelessness, depression and addiction.  Robert’s depression has led to multiple suicide attempts.  Working as a team, we were able to get Robert assigned to Teen Court.  The professionals at Teen Court carry lighter caseloads so they can dedicate more time to these high-risk cases.  When I first met Robert he wanted to learn guitar.  He had a heavily damaged guitar that I was able to rebuild.  One fond memory was the day Robert and a public defender played a concert in court for the judge, attorneys and social workers.  Playing guitar is a passion for Robert and helps relieve some of the stress in his life.”

“Landon was removed from his home due to unsafe living conditions and abuse by a neighbor. After multiple failed attempts to find a safe placement, today Landon is living with his adult half-sister and her family in a safe, loving home.  Landon’s resilience and determination to always do his best has enabled him to thrive in spite of this early trauma. Today he is an excellent student and a talented musician.  When I first met Landon, the two things he wanted most was to learn guitar and to play baseball. I was able to get Landon a guitar and through donations from generous people like yourselves, we provided Landon with professional guitar lessons. Today Landon plays 14 instruments, writes, performs and produces his own original music. He has performed at Carnegie Hall, Disneyland and marched in the Rose Parade.  He was recently selected to join a highly competitive Gold Honor Drum and Bugle Corps.”  

Auctioneer, Zack Krone, helped facilitate the evening’s livestream gala from the Bright Ideas’ soundstage in Rancho Santa Margarita, which also featured speeches from CASA CEO, Regan Phillips and CASA Board of Directors Chair, Patty Juarez. Zack Krone energized the viewers for the annual Fund the Mission portion of the program which hauled in over $322,000 with donations from CASA supporters ranging from $100,000 to $100. The live auction included a “Wine Collector’s Dream – with a selection of 35 bottles of wine all valued over $200, a choice of 1 of 3 fabulous Twila True Fine Jewelry Suites valued between $16,500 - $19,500, and a “Private Jet to Napa, In Style” which included a 3-night stay in the 5-bedroom Estate House on Italics Vineyard for up to 8 guests and including wine tasting and 8 Versace robes, which was sold twice!

Evening entertainment was provided by Tyler Conti and Daniel Nahmod, who each performed one song during the cocktail reception, and The Brevet, performing two songs during the evening’s program. Special appearances by Mark Sanchez and Kevin McKidd (actor, Grey’s Anatomy) were also included in the evening’s festivities.

About Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA)

Court Appointed Special Advocates of Orange County is a privately-funded non-profit organization that serves severely abused, neglected and abandoned children through the recruitment, training and continued support of volunteers who advocate and mentor these children, representing their best interest in the courtroom and other settings. Founded in 1985, with major support from the Junior League of Orange County, we serve annually approximately 750 of the children who move through our court system as a direct cause of abuse and neglect. We are able to serve these children through the generous support of those who donate to CASA as well as the immeasurable compassion and commitment of our CASA advocates. At CASA of Orange County, our mantra is I am for the Child. Learn more about the ways to give to CASA as a means to help us support and protect the rights of our county’s valued children and to give them the nurturing and stability that they deserve. Please visit to learn more.

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CASA Spotlight - Anne Haraksin

This month we shine our spotlight on Advocate Anne Haraksin!

Whether having an impact in a broad sense or working one-on-one with a child in need, helping others is what makes Anne the happiest. She strives to live a service-oriented and purposeful life. As a professional, Anne works for a local city contributing to the betterment of the community and as a volunteer, she participated in a mentoring program for a one-on-one experience of helping others. In the spring of 2019 Anne was doing research about other volunteer programs when she came across CASA’s mission statement; she immediately felt drawn to it. Anne said that CASA’s nexus to the court system and the potential impact in the life of a child helped her realize that a CASA volunteer is more than a mentor and that was exactly what Anne was looking for.

After completing the required protocols to become a CASA volunteer, Anne was matched with *Evan, a teen boy. It was a perfect match because Evan had a male CASA previously, but he was waiting to be matched again and this time he had requested a female CASA.  Meanwhile Mary, who grew up having five older brothers and lives a very active lifestyle, was hoping to be matched with a teen boy. In stating her preferences for the matching team, Anne specified that she wanted to be able to dialogue with her CASA youth and be relatable to him.  Anne considers that the matching team did a fantastic job in matching her and Evan together.

Intentional and active listening has been a bonding conduit for Anne and Evan. Anne also points out that music has been key. She lets him play his diverse choices of music and then they talk about the lyrics. She pays special attention to the stories he tells while listening to his music. Allowing Evan to share his interests with her seems to help him feel safe and accepted. Ann is careful not to come across as judgmental when he shares his interests which helps him feel safe and free to open up. Anne enjoys being a CASA very much and not being able to see Evan in person during the stay-at-home orders was a great challenge. It was very difficult to know he was struggling with isolation without being able to be there for him in a tangible way.

Although a newer CASA, Anne is finding her own mentoring style.  She is open minded and allows him to be himself while encouraging him to try new things. Even through COVID-19, Anne tries to be present through consistent visits and texts to check in.  Anne has shown Evan that she is dependable through her consistency and her goal for Evan for him to know that he matters. At age 17, Evan has been in foster care for five years so  it is truly a gift for him to know that he matters.

In terms of accomplishments in her case, Anne feels confident that after a year of consistency in visitation, she has been able to establish a solid relationship with Evan. This level of trust leads him to open up and share his thoughts and life stories, interests, and goals, so that Anne is able to build him up and point him in the right direction.  Anne warmly says this about Evan, “He is such a good kid and I feel blessed to hang out with him. He is resourceful and resilient.”  As she has been able to be a friend to Evan, Anne has also been able to be his voice. Recently during a team meeting she brought up the idea of providing a keyboard to help Evan cope with  the isolation of COVID-19.  In turn, the team made it happen and the keyboard has been a source of comfort for Evan to be able to express himself through music. Anne emphasized the importance of attending team meetings to be the voice of the child. She knows that Evan values her presence at these meetings and that resources can be accessed more effectively with the help of a CASA.

To encourage other CASAs, Anne would like to share that building a solid relationship with your CASA youth takes time. It does not happen overnight. It requires time, intentionality, tenacity to keep reaching, and awareness that you may be the only person reaching out to this youth. It’s important to express care so that they know that they matter.  Anne goes on to express that for her youth, COVID triggered depression and at times he would not text back, but she did not give up in reaching out to let him know that he matters. Anne felt deeply rewarded when he would initiate the text or FaceTime.

Knowing that she is helping a child who has gone through much adversity during his formative years is what Anne likes the most about being a CASA. Anne is learning to appreciate other aspects of the CASA role - the behind the scenes responsibilities - which are just as important such as completing continuing education training and writing court reports.  The overall CASA experience helps Anne feel a sense of purpose and, although it may sound “corny” Ann said, CASA helps her to have a more service-oriented and purposeful life.

When asked for a final word for our readers, Ann simply said “Dive in! You may be nervous or apprehensive, but don’t be afraid. Just jump right in!”

Anne’s case supervisor, Donna Doocy, shares this about her, “Anne has been a very diligent and conscientious CASA. She and her youth seemed to get along well from the start. She has always been faithful in seeing him twice a month and checking in when he needed it. During the pandemic she also was diligent in checking on him as well and made sure he did not feel alone. Anne's documentation and Court reports are always on time and she is a joy to work with.”

*Name changed to protect confidentiality.




Matthew Wadlinger

Chief Communications Officer

(714) 619-5149


Santa Ana, Calif. (September 24, 2020) – Court Appointed Special Advocates of Orange County (CASA-OC) and Autosonic Concerts Safely Powered by Subaru, (Subaru of America, Inc.), have partnered to bring a higher level of community awareness for local foster youth through the Drive-In Concert Experience being held at The OC Fair & Event Center, September 25 – 27 and October 16 - 18, 2020.

Autosonic is a LIVE entertainment concept in response to the COVID-19 crisis. As the official sponsor, Subaru proudly selected CASA-OC to be the beneficiary of this unique experience. The Subaru Love Promise platform is nationally, if not globally, recognized for its philanthropy and giving back to important causes that promote love, tolerance, help, and support to others in local communities across the nation.

"As we celebrate 35 years of providing a powerful voice and a meaningful connection for children who have experienced abuse, neglect, and abandonment, CASA-OC is honored to partner with Autosonic Concerts and Subaru. Your support brings much needed attention to the work we do in supporting Orange County's foster youth." Susan Kenny, CASA-OC Chief Advancement Officer.  

“We were thrilled to hear that CASA-OC was selected as the local charity partner” said Eric Park, LA Zone Manager, SOA, “What this organization does for foster youth is heroic beyond words and in support of their great work, we committed to match EVERY dollar donated, from ticket sales and through the ‘text to donate’ opportunity during the entire series.”

During each performance, concert guests will wait in their cars for the show to begin while video instructions play safe and ‘contact-less’ guidelines for the evening along with other concert information. In addition, information about CASA-OC's mission and how to give back. Please text to donate to (949) 751-1168, with code CASAOC. You can also visit for other ways to participate.

At the conclusion of the Autosonic Concerts Safely Powered by Subaru series in October, Subaru will present a check to CASA-OC on behalf of their team and the generous donations made by the Autosonic Concerts attendees.

Tickets for September are now on sale through website.

  • Which One’s Pink? A Tribute to the Music of Pink Floyd, will perform (2) shows on September 25
  • Queen Nation, A Tribute to the Music of Queen will perform (2) shows on September 26
  • Dead Man’s Party, The Greatest Tribute to Oingo Boingo will perform (2) shows on September 27

Visit for more information regarding October performances.

About Court Appointed Special Advocates of Orange County (CASA-OC)

Court Appointed Special Advocates of Orange County is a privately-funded non-profit organization that serves severely abused, neglected and abandoned children through the recruitment, training and continued support of volunteers who advocate for and mentor these children, representing their best interest in the courtroom and other settings. Founded in 1985, with major support from the Junior League of Orange County, CASA provides a powerful voice and a meaningful connection for children who have experienced abuse, neglect and abandonment. We are able to serve these children through the generous support of those who donate to CASA as well as the immeasurable compassion and commitment of our CASA advocates. Please visit to learn more.

About Subaru of America, Inc. (SOA)

Subaru of America, Inc. (SOA) is a wholly owned subsidiary of Subaru Corporation of Japan. Headquartered at a zero-landfill office in Camden, N.J., the company markets and distributes Subaru vehicles, parts and accessories through a network of more than 630 retailers across the United States. All Subaru products are manufactured in zero-landfill production plants and Subaru of Indiana Automotive, Inc. is the only U.S. automobile production plant to be designated a backyard wildlife habitat by the National Wildlife Federation. SOA is guided by the Subaru Love Promise, which is the company’s vision to show love and respect to everyone, and to support its communities and customers nationwide. Over the past 20 years, SOA has donated more than $165 million to causes the Subaru family cares about, and its employees have logged more than 40,000 volunteer hours. As a company, Subaru believes it is important to do its part in making a positive impact in the world because it is the right thing to do. For additional information visit

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Sweeten 2020 with a little Sugar ‘n Spice

Sweeten 2020 with a little Sugar ‘n Spice

An Orange County icon has teamed up with CASA OC!

Enjoy the iconic Original Frozen Bananas and Balboa Bars you love from their beloved Balboa Island shop – delivered right to your door with their Contactless Delivery OR via pick-up at the shop.

Savor them with your loved ones this Labor Day weekend from the comfort of your home while supporting CASA OC in the process.

Click HERE to place your order!

20% of the proceeds of each CASA 2020 Bunch will be donated directly to CASA OC.

Here are a few ways you can satisfy your sweet tooth while giving back:

-Order the CASA 2020 Bunch for Contactless Delivery and customize 20 of your favorite sweet treats including Original Frozen Bananas,Balboa Bars, Ice Cream Cookie Sandwiches, Tiramisu-on-a-Stick and Cheesecake-on-a-Stick. *These keep well in the freezer for quite some time.

-Send a CASA 2020 Bunch! Perfect for business owners who are looking to send sweet treats to their employees who are working from home or as a way to simply see smiles delivered to someone you are thinking of!

-Buy and Bank a CASA 2020 Bunch! If you love to walk around Balboa Island while enjoying your Original Frozen Bananas and Balboa Bars,purchase a CASA 2020 Bunch for pick-up during your Balboa Island visit. Simply let them know 24 hours prior to pick-up so they can have all items ready for you upon arrival.

*20% of the proceeds of each CASA 2020 Bunch will be donated directly to CASA OC for purchases made from September 1st – September 30th,2020.*

CASA Spotlight - Sheri VanderDussen

This month we shine our spotlight on Advocate Sheri VanderDussen!

Sheri first heard about CASA several years ago while she was sitting in a jury room. She was particularly moved by the CASA mission and came to learn more about the program from one of her friends who was a CASA at the time. She continued to remain interested in the program and soon after she retired, she attended an information session at CASA-OC which began her CASA journey.

Sheri has been a CASA for five years and worked on several cases. Her advocacy work as a CASA made a profound impact on the lives of the youth she has served- she advocated for the needs of a young adult, showed up consistently for a teenager who had serious mental health needs and is now experiencing what it is like to advocate and mentor a youth during a pandemic. She is determined, experienced, patient, and most of all, is able to meet her CASA youth where he is at.

Sheri’s favorite part about being a CASA is the advocacy role and she was able to really dive into that role during her first case. Her first CASA youth, Jorge*, had an intellectual disability and a speech impediment. Though he had his high school diploma, Sheri quickly realized that he struggled with basic writing skills and reading comprehension. She also knew he did not have great social or life skills that would allow him to live independently. Sheri, being the team player she is, went to Jorge’s social worker to advocate for regional center services. Regional center services are typically assigned to a youth who needs additional services and support due to a disability. Given that Jorge was a non-minor dependent at the time (over 18 years old), it was more of a challenge for his application to be accepted. Sheri’s case supervisor suggested she reach out to his attorney since the social worker was not as proactive on the matter as she hoped. Sheri took her case supervisor’s advice and jumped on the opportunity to speak to his attorney about this need. The attorney was extremely helpful and agreed that Jorge needed regional center services. As a team, they helped Jorge submit his application; unfortunately, his first application was denied, but when he applied for it a second time it went through. He now receives SSI and landed a job at Disneyland. Sheri was a strong advocate for Jorge and showed him how to self-advocate. With all the key services in place for Jorge, his CASA was the one who recognized a need and fought for the services he should have been receiving long before Sheri was assigned to his case. Sheri was able to be Jorge’s voice when he could not be.

Sheri’s second case was much different than her first case and she thought it was more challenging. Her CASA youth, Ben*, did not show appreciation for her nor any interest in getting to know her. He was used to having people leave him, so it was very hard for Sheri to develop rapport and a trusting relationship with him. He had severe mental health issues and was hospitalized several times for making threats of harming others. For Sheri, it was not about having a reciprocal relationship with her youth, but rather, it was about advocating for the services he needed most and continuing to show him that someone cared about him. Sheri shares that with these kids “you plant seeds for them and hope that everything sprouts. What has happened to them has shaped how they view the world. We cannot fix them, but we can come alongside and try to help them overcome their trauma”.

Sheri just started another case and it is going well. Her CASA youth is feeling very isolated right now given the pandemic, so he really enjoys talking to Sheri on the phone. She feels lucky to have this case because she knows how hard it can be for kids in the foster care system to open up to someone, especially over the phone during a pandemic.

Sheri’s advice to other CASAs is to be patient. The hardest part about being a CASA for Sheri is not knowing whether or not she made a difference in their lives. She felt like she was able to bring joy to her first youth, but she is not so sure she brought joy to her second youth.  Each case and youth is so different- some youth are more appreciative or more talkative than others, but that does not mean you do not matter to them. It’s all about meeting the youth where they are at and being ok with the relationship you have with them, even if it is not what you want or expect.

In her five years of being a CASA, Sheri has dealt with a myriad of experiences on each of her cases, all of which have made a significant impact on her own life. CASA has changed Sheri’s outlook on life as she shares, “[CASA] changed my perspective on what we can do to help other people and how people can often benefit from that help, if people can give them what they need as opposed to what we think they need”.

Andy Jacobson, Sheri’s case supervisor, shares this about her: “Sheri has been a dedicated CASA for the past five years. During this time, she has supported four different youth most of whom struggle with serious mental health issues, developmental disabilities and cognitive challenges. She has proven to be a most exceptional advocate for all her youth, tirelessly advocating for their special education needs, access to regional center and mental health services. She has been extraordinary in her collaboration with all professionals, some of whom looked to her for advice and guidance. Sheri has such a healthy approach when mentoring her youth and always works to meet them where they are at. She always makes that extra effort to research areas pertaining to her youth's needs and truly cares deeply about their future and wellbeing. It is such an honor to work with Sheri and we are lucky to have her as part of the CASA family.”


*Name changed for confidentiality reasons

CASA Spotlight - Simone LeCompte

This month we shine our spotlight on Advocate Simone LeCompte!

Because of her own less than ideal childhood, Simone knew that she wanted to volunteer within the foster care system. While seeking where to invest her time and heart, she found CASA as the organization that stood out above others. Feeling both excited and terrified at the same time about becoming a CASA, Simone thought long and hard about it for about 10 months, but she felt CASA pulling and pulling at her heart, until she finally said yes. She thought how great it would have been for her to have had a CASA when she was a child, someone in her corner looking out for her. 

One year later, Simone still feels excited and considers herself a “baby CASA.” She feels that she is still in a learning phase of the system, but she is learning on her feet. When asked about her advocacy style, she said, “slow and steady” which reveals Simone’s humble attitude toward her CASA role.  Simone wants to get it right, so she takes the time to understand the upheaval her CASA youth is going through. She is keenly aware that our CASA kids have huge walls up, but Simone’s relationship building skills and her slow and steady approach have served her well as she grows into her CASA role.

Simone shares that *Laura, her CASA youth, is 12 years old and a fantastic kid who loves to talk. Simone also shares that Laura is fun, outgoing, and a ball or energy. When they first met, they quickly bonded, but just at a certain level. Simone wisely says that time and consistency will be what will take to achieve a deeper level in their relationship.  In her one year with Laura, the biggest piece of advocacy has been finding an appropriate placement for Laura, which has taken a year to accomplish.  Simone admits struggling when watching Laura’s mental health deteriorate to the point of needing to be hospitalized. Just keeping track of Laura’s whereabouts is difficult. But Simone’s mission is to help everyone to get to know the real Laura and not be led just by what the file says about her.  Simone intentionally spends a lot of time telling the team of professionals what an amazing kid Laura is. Simone knows that Laura can be difficult, but her goal is to show another side of Laura to others. She says that she often encourages the team to “wait and see” the great kid Laura can be. 

What asked to share a success she has had on this case, Simone shares a time when she helped Laura reduce absconding behaviors. In collaboration with Laura’s teacher, she learned how to talk to Laura about dealing with anger instead of absconding. Simone’s “slow and steady” style is showcased in her approach to this issue. She encouraged Laura to try baby steps to improve with the goal to avoid absconding for a week.  Being in touch with the teacher, Simone knew that Laura had not absconded in a week, but she wanted to hear it from Laura herself so she could praise her and help her see that she had it in her to change certain behaviors. The next step was to try to go a whole month without absconding which Laura successfully accomplished. This showed Simone that what Laura needs is the right environment and positive encouragement to help her fulfill her full potential. 

With thoughtfulness, Simone reflects that “consistency plus time” is the  important thing to remember about being a CASA and the key to achieving trust.  She says that once you break the trust barrier, you start to see the fruit of your labor, even if in small ways.  Simone wants to remind others that “It’s never, ever, ever, about you, but about your CASA youth.” She also shares from experience that there will be times when feelings are hurt, but CASAs always need to remember that they are there to help.  For Simone, her favorite thing about being a CASA is the idea that she can have a positive impact on someone’s life during difficult times. On the other hand, her least favorite thing about being a CASA is not being able to see her kiddo, especially during COVID-19. 

As a parent, Simone takes seriously the responsibility of being a good role model for her children. She does not want to just tell them about being a positive member of society, but also wants to model this role for them.  She wants her kids to see their mom giving out and putting into action the things she talks about.  As a CASA, Simone really loves Laura and feels that they teach each other life lessons.  Simone’s sincere concern for the outcome of foster kids in terms of homelessness, incarceration, lack of permanency, low graduation rates, etc. is what fuels her desire to create change. Being a CASA is a step in the right direction.

During COVID times, Simone encourages herself knowing that this season is not forever.  Instead, she looks to the future with hope and says that five years down the road, this will be a blip in the history of her relationship with Laura and that they will be stronger on the other side of this season.  Simone strongly believes that going through tough times together will help build trust more and more.  It truly requires consistency plus time to be the slow and steady type, which Simone beautifully embodies. 

Simone’s case supervisor, Steph Bazurto, shares this about her: “Simone LeCompte has been a CASA for just over one year. When I first became acquainted with Simone during core training, my first observation was that Simone sat at the front of the class, every session. I recognized the deep attention she was giving to learning about becoming a CASA. I then had the privilege of interviewing Simone, and that's where I confirmed she was deeply interested in being a child's special someone. When I was assigned to supervise Simone through her CASA journey, I was instantly excited for the difference I knew she would make in a child's life.  Simone connected with her youth quickly. From day one with her youth, Simone has shown dedication, commitment, and consistency. Her case has not been the easiest, yet through it all, my favorite thing about Simone is her willingness to remain child focused and committed. Simone has been a very important part of her youth's team. Simone's youth has identified her as an important person in her life. Simone is a great mentor and is always ready and willing to advocate for her youth. I deeply admire Simone's desire to always represent the best interest of her CASA youth.”


*Name changed for confidentiality reasons

CASA Spotlight - Janet Miller

This month we shine our spotlight on Advocate Janet Miller!

Janet has always had a passion for children and families. She has a master’s degree in social work and first heard about CASA while she was attending graduate school. Professionally, she uses her social work skills at the macro level as a policy analyst. When she eventually moved back to her hometown of Orange County a few years ago, she wanted to give back to her community in some way, and so, she looked for volunteer work that focused on helping children and families directly. When she stumbled upon CASA, she knew she could use her social work skills when working directly with youth. Though she had her reservations at first, given the two-year commitment and 30 hours of training she had to complete before becoming a volunteer, she ultimately decided to make the commitment to be an advocate and mentor to foster children - that was five years ago.  

Janet has been a CASA volunteer since 2015, and she has been a CASA to the same young man throughout her entire time as a CASA thus far. She first met Jacob* when he was 14 years old. Today, he is 19 years old and only has two more years left in extended foster care before he ages out of the system. Janet has been his support system and constant in his life through it all; she has watched him grow up and become the amazing young man he is today.

When Janet first started as a CASA she was anxious about starting her new role. Janet always tried to plan the perfect outing for Jacob- she spent many hours brainstorming fun outing ideas. It wasn’t until well into her case that she realized she was overthinking it.  Jacob did not care about what they did on their outings- it was more about the time they spent together and the fact that she consistently showed up to see him. She discovered that Jacob was most content with just hanging out and grabbing some food. Janet shared that, “consistency and reliability are more important than what type of outing you have planned for the day”.  

 Janet could never really tell if Jacob enjoyed spending time with her since he was so quiet and just went with whatever she had planned for their outing. Though he didn’t say much on their outings, he continued to see Janet every month; and,with time, he was able to develop a trusting relationship with her. To this day, after 5 years, he is still quiet around Janet and typically gives her one-word answers. She continues to be his constant so that he knows she will be there for him if he needs her one day. Janet learned how to adjust her expectations in order to meet him where he is at. Most importantly, she learned that silence is okay.

 When Janet was first assigned to Jacob’s case, he had a stable placement. Unfortunately, he soon lost his placement and began to move from placement to placement. He was very resistant to each new placement, so he began to consistently AWOL. At one point, he went AWOL for about four months. No one knew where he was, as he had changed his cell phone number. Jacob decided to call one person during his AWOL- it was Janet. In that moment, she realized how important she was to him. She was there for him and there to listen. Those first few months of developing trust helped to lay a solid foundation for their relationship.

This year, Jacob managed to get his first job at a restaurant all on his own.  Initially, Janet would help him apply for jobs by taking him to the library to fill out online applications and taking him to grocery stores to ask for an application from the store manager. He used to never look for job openings unless Janet was there to guide him; but, with a little encouragement from Janet he felt empowered enough to apply for jobs without any help. She is very proud of him and she has seen so much growth in him since they first met five years ago. Janet continues to help him with his independent living skills as he will be on his own soon. She recently assisted him in opening up his own bank account and learning about money management. She is also encouraging him to get his GED.

Janet would like to express to other CASAs who are having difficulty or may feel stuck on their case to reach out to their case supervisor. Janet feels like she has greatly benefited from the conversations she’s had with her case supervisor- it is best to brainstorm and talk it out with someone than trying to figure it out all on your own. She also advises other CASAs to be consistent, patient, and to continue to show up for their youth.


Janet’s case supervisor, Yariza Amaton, share this about her: “Janet became part of the CASA organization in 2015.  In Janet's almost 5 years of dedication to our program she has been assigned to the same young man. Her level of commitment and passion to the CASA mission has been apparent through her CASA work throughout the years. Janet has been there for her youth through thick and thin; through his 25 placements, his absconding periods in an attempt to find equilibrium in his life, and his various school placements. I have been impressed by Janet's level of attentiveness to her youth and his case. Regardless of her many personal life changes she has remained present and consistent with her youth. Thank you, Janet for being such an amazing advocate and allowing me to share this journey with you.”


*Name changed for confidentiality reasons

New Chairwoman, Patty Juarez, elected for CASA-OC Board of Directors

Patty Juarez



Matthew Wadlinger

Chief Communications Officer



Santa Ana, Calif. (June 23, 2020) – Court Appointed Special Advocates of Orange County will have a change in leadership on the Governing Board of Directors effective July 1, 2020, as current Chairman, Ted Nark (Managing Director, KRG Capital), completes his two year term. Patty Juarez was voted into the new role and will succeed Mr. Nark as the first Latina to hold this position within the CASA organization. Ms. Juarez has been serving on the CASA Board of Directors since 2010, and most recently served as Audit Committee Chair. Additional changes to the board structure include Michael Wong (President & CEO, Genea) taking over as Vice President, Mark Kerslake (Province Group/Newport Equities LLC) taking over as Strategic Planning Chair, David Fisher (Managing Director, PIMCO) taking over as Finance Chair, Todd Vande Hei (President, Stark) in a new position as Marketing Committee Chair, and Larry Cerutti (Troutman Sanders LLP) staying in the role as Secretary, John Sabourin (President, Tenant Guardian) in the role as Advancement Committee Chair, and Courtney Wittkop (Community Philanthropist) as Board Development Chair.

“Over the last two years CASA of Orange County has prospered under the leadership of Chairman, Ted Nark. He has overseen and encouraged our mission to provide a powerful voice and a meaningful connection for children who have experienced abuse, neglect and abandonment. I am thrilled to have Patty Juarez step in as our new Board Chair.  Patty has served on our Board and held a variety of other volunteer roles within our organization for the last ten years. Over 60% of the youth that CASA serves in the OC foster care system identify as Hispanic/Latino and Patty is committed to making sure CASA is a leading voice in the advocacy efforts to help these children and all of the youth in the OC foster care system” states Regan Phillips, CEO of CASA of Orange County.

Patty Juarez has spent over 25 years at Wells Fargo in various leadership roles in Commercial Banking.  Currently Patty serves as National Diverse Segments Director creating, developing, and executing the bank’s segment strategies within several lines of business.  Patty earned her bachelor’s degree in business with an emphasis in accounting from the University of California, Berkeley, and her MBA in Finance from St. Mary’s College of California in Moraga.

Patty is active in a variety of professional and community organizations beyond CASA. Patty was chairwoman and now Board Development Chair of the Orange County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Patty is a member of the Latinx Outreach Leadership Advisory Board at Delta Airlines, The California Latino Economic Institute, and on the advisory board of the Latino Donor Collaborative.  Lastly, Patty sits on the Dean’s Board of Counselors for Chapman University’s school of business and economics.

Patty has been featured on Forbes and Hispanic Executive as a trailblazing Latina, she often speaks about topics such as Diversity and Inclusion, diverse segments, multi-cultural marketing, access to capital, and financial literacy. She has been invited to speak at Harvard, Stanford, and Chapman Universities as well as numerous community and civic organizations across the country.  Patty has been recognized as a Latina of Influence, National Latina Corporate Woman of the year, Diversity Champion and Volunteer of the Year.  At Wells Fargo, Patty is the President of Latin Connection, one of the largest employee resource groups at Wells Fargo (50 chapters) representing over 48,000 Latinos.  She also chairs key committees in the Women in Leadership and Diversity Councils for Commercial Banking.

Patty lives in South Orange County, Calif., with her husband Manny and her children Isabella (14) and Max (6).


About Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA)

Court Appointed Special Advocates of Orange County is a privately-funded non-profit organization that serves severely abused, neglected and abandoned children through the recruitment, training and continued support of volunteers who advocate for and mentor these children, representing their best interest in the courtroom and other settings. Founded in 1985, with major support from the Junior League of Orange County, CASA provides a powerful voice and a meaningful connection for children who have experienced abuse, neglect and abandonment. We are able to serve these children through the generous support of those who donate to CASA as well as the immeasurable compassion and commitment of our CASA advocates. Please visit to learn more.

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Our Commitment to Justice and Advocacy

CASA was founded upon the principles of justice and advocacy for the most powerless and vulnerable among us.  Implicit within our mission is the belief that our voice is our most powerful tool and it can and should be used to create positive and meaningful change.  CASA's commitment to justice and advocacy on behalf of voices that aren't easily heard or regarded can be summed up in our often used catch phrase: "Lift up a child's voice.  Lift up a child's life."

As part of the CASA community you are important to the children and youth who desperately need to feel seen, to feel safe, and to be supported.  People of color are disproportionately represented within the foster care system. There are inherent and pervasive inequalities within the system and within our society that result in harm to the children CASA serves, and to their families and communities.        

We are witnessing a physical manifestation of pain, outrage, and unrest in response to racial injustice playing out across our country and the globe; all of which is set against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic.  There is a heavy emotional toll for anyone paying attention, and we are particularly mindful how this is impacting the youth we serve, the advocates who support them, and our entire CASA community.  Our team will be continuing to share out resources with our advocates about how to best support our youth during these difficult times and how to navigate questions and conversations that may arise in a way that allows our youth to process, learn, and explore ways for self-care.  In the meantime, we will continue to use our voices to speak up and speak out in support of justice, peace, connection, and unity.

CASA Spotlight - Mary King

This month we shine our spotlight on Advocate Mary King!

During the current global pandemic, many things are uncertain, but Mary King’s steadfast commitment to *Zoe, her 14-year old CASA youth, remains unshakable. Yet, Mary does not think this is considered as going above and beyond. Instead, Mary is humbled to be chosen for this month’s Volunteer Spotlight for doing what she said she would do. As we chatted with Mary, it was easy to see that she has a fun, compassionate, and nurturing soul. Her love for Zoe is unconditional and no matter what turns her case takes, Mary finds ways to show up for Zoe.

When asked what attracted her to the CASA program, Mary explained that it all began about 20 years ago when the “CASA seed” was planted in her mind. She first heard about CASA during her involvement with the Junior League. Then over the years, the CASA seed was watered when she met a friend who happened to be a CASA and would encourage her to become one. Finally, when her youngest daughter went away to college, Mary felt empowered and confidently ready to take on the CASA role. Mary humorously shares that her husband also was ready to take on a new role, but did not want to copy her. Instead, he decided to become a Big Brother. Now Mary jokingly says that she and her husband have their replacement kids. She has her CASA girl while her husband has his “Little” [brother].

Mary told  us that her hero and inspiration is Father Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries. She went on to say that he has modeled what it looks like to walk beside young people who are going through hard times: not pulling or pushing them, but just being there for them. Father Boyle’s approach and  non-judgmental attitude is reflected in the way Mary mentors and advocates for Zoe. 

Mary admits that when she first became a CASA, she was hoping to be matched with a boy. However, she is now glad that she was given Zoe. The CASA picnic 2018 was their first of many outings. Conversation flows easily, since Zoe is a talker while Mary is the attentive and intentional listener. On outings, they would try new things. As expected, some things stuck more than others. Soon after their first outing, Zoe moved outside Orange County. Mary did not miss a beat and consistently made the long drive every other week to see her.  La Mexicana Restaurant was their starting point, then they would go off to explore oftentimes driving long distances to find things to do. Since Zoe’s love language is gift-giving, she loved receiving CASA gift cards which she generously used to shop for her family. When Zoe returned to Orange County, they took advantage of the CASA kitchen to make delicious recipes. To keep a record of their times together, Mary made a little book of memories to give to Zoe on their first CASA anniversary. Due to the frequent placement moves that are part of life in foster care, Zoe lost her memory book along the way. Knowing that this would likely happen, Mary has it digitally saved and will be able to replace it. Mary and Zoe’s relationship is close and they pick up on each other’s mannerisms. Mary smiles when she recalls a time when Zoe’s friends said to Zoe, “Why are you talking like a white girl?” Zoe said her CASA was rubbing off on her!

It’s an honor for Mary to be able to speak up for Zoe in Court. Recently, Mary felt she was the one on trial the day she addressed the court to advocate for Zoe not to be sent to juvenile hall.  Mary candidly shared with us that she had certain expectations at the beginning of the case, but now realizes that there is much work to do together to reach certain goals. Nevertheless, Mary’s greatest success in the case is that Zoe knows she can count her. Zoe sometimes wonders if Mary will lose track of her, but Mary proves time and time again to Zoe that she can rely on Mary to be there. Zoe feels secure in their relationship.

As far as challenges, Mary recognizes that it’s difficult dealing with the “two steps forward, one step back” progress. It is also difficult dealing with the not-knowing and trying to make sense of the foster care system. The first six months on the case were very difficult causing Mary to, at times, feel tempted to take matters into her own hands to fix the situation. Thankfully, Mary said that she feels she won the lottery with the two case supervisors she has had - Lindsey Covino and Kari Becker, who have been a wonderful support and sounding board.

When asked what is the most important thing to remember, Mary is quick to say, “Walk beside others; love unconditionally; be non judgmental.” Mary loves the CASA program so much, she said she would have five CASA kiddos, if she could! Her favorite part of being a CASA is having outings with Zoe and just talking about her day. This fills her heart. Mary is glad that the judge really listens to CASAs which makes the experience both scary and rewarding at the same time.  Mary carefully listens and interprets Zoe’s requests to the court giving the team a broad picture of who Zoe is and giving context to her life. Mary also likes to share “power” with Zoe to help her feel that her voice is being heard.

We asked Mary if there was a least favorite thing about her CASA role. She said that putting in contact logs in Optima was probably the least favorite thing. However, Mary admits that if doing paperwork is the worst thing about being a CASA, then it’s not so bad. 

CASA has helped Mary realize how sheltered her life had been and felt she had been  living in a “bubble.” She says it has been sobering to see and to recognize the level of poverty and its effects in Orange County. 

Because Mary is a humble person, she has no direct advice to give to other CASAs. She says that she draws inspiration from reading other Volunteer Spotlights and CASA stories. The consistent advice she takes away from others is to be tenacious and to keep asking good questions about the best interest of the children.  In closing, Mary told us that since she advocated for her own children, she now feels privileged to be able to do it for someone else.

Mary’s Case Supervisor, Kari Becker, shares this about her, “Mary King has been a CASA for almost 2 years. When I met Mary, I could instantly see how genuine and caring she was. Her role as a CASA is a natural fit. And although her case has taken her through many ups and downs, Mary has handled each situation with as much grace as perseverance. Any and all court hearings, case-related meetings, placement changes, etc. - you  name it -  Mary is there, present and ready to advocate for her youth. I have witnessed just how much Mary's youth admires her and is grateful for her. That alone is a testament to who Mary is. Thank you Mary, for being so devoted to CASA!”

*Name changed to protect confidentiality

CASA Spotlight - Sac Carreathers

This month we shine our spotlight on Advocate Sac Carreathers!

Sac grew up in the inner city and worked hard to be as successful as he is today. While living in Los Angeles, he worked at a non-profit organization called Children’s Institute for about five years. Sac wrote grants for the organization to help protect Los Angeles’s abused and neglected children. While working at Children’s Institute, Sac saw how the foster care system works and how disruptive placements can be for children in foster care. His experience helped him understand the challenges foster care children face, which motivated him to become a volunteer at CASA.

When Sac’s case supervisor, April, informed him about a potential match, he was excited to start his journey as a CASA. Sac was paired with a 16-year-old boy named *Luke. Luke and his siblings were removed from their home due to physical and sexual abuse allegations. Luke has been involved with the foster care system for about nine years. Since coming into care, he has moved from placement to placement and never had a place to call home. Whenever he started to like his placement and feel comfortable with staff, he would have to move again.

When Sac met Luke for the first time at his group home, Luke did not open up to him. He was used to people coming in and out of his life, so it was not easy for him to trust people. Sac consistently showed up for Luke; and, after about six months, Luke finally started to open up and go on outings with him.

Sac tried to expose Luke to new experiences as much as possible. Luke was fearful of experiences he had never tried before. For example, Luke was afraid of the ocean and boats because he knew he could drown. Once Sac encouraged him to go on a boat for the first time to Catalina, Luke hesitantly agreed to do so and then loved every minute of it. All he needed was a little encouragement and someone to show him that it is okay to step out of your comfort zone from time to time.

The first piece of advocacy work Sac focused on was Luke’s education. Luke often refused to go to school; and, when he did go to school, he was easily distracted in class. He recently started high school, yet his academic levels were at a 2nd or 3rd grade level. He was anxious and disruptive in class- “he just felt lost in high school” Sac says. He soon moved to a different high school where the classes were much smaller and a better fit for Luke. Luke will do some of his homework now, but his grades are still below average. It is hard for him to concentrate on school work in and out of the classroom, which makes it difficult for him to learn the material.  The most challenging part about being Luke’s CASA is watching him struggle in school when Sac knows how smart he is. “He has so much potential, but his barriers get in the way” Sac says. As Luke’s educational rights holder, Sac continuously supports him in his academics. He pushes him because he knows he is smart and capable of doing the work, but sometimes Sac wonders if he is making a difference. There are ups and downs with Luke, but Sac knows that he has to keep trying with him and supporting him no matter what.  

The greatest success for Sac so far has been the bond he has formed with Luke. He has been Luke’s CASA for two years now and they are able to talk about pretty much everything from relationships and school to cultural awareness and his role as a young man. As Luke gets older, it is harder for social services to find him a foster home. Luckily, Luke will always have Sac by his side, no matter what happens.

Sac’s best advice to other CASAs is to be patient and a good listener. Sometimes these kids say something aloud to you, but it can mean something totally different. You must read between the lines to figure out what they are reall trying to tell you.

Sac’s Case Supervisor, April Allton, shares this about him:  “Sac joined the CASA family 2 years ago and the role just clicked for him right from the beginning. He has an immense amount of knowledge and tenacity which he has fully brought to his role as a CASA and has been a fearless advocate for his youth. When it was needed, he stepped above the role of a CASA and also became the educational rights holder for his youth. Although his youth continues to struggle, Sac goes above and beyond to ensure his youth has every possible tool for success. Thank you, Sac for being a wonderful advocate!”

*Name changed to protect confidentiality

$42 million to protect our foster youth

Governor Newsom

“Every child deserves to grow up in a safe, stable, and nurturing environment free from fear, abuse, and neglect,” said Governor Newsom. “Our foster youth and the families who care for them need our support to get through this difficult time. We’re ramping up funding on initiatives that keep families together and support the social workers who provide critical services to help families thrive.”

Thank you Governor Newsom. Thank you for acknowledging how important it is to help foster youth especially during these challenging times.



Even in the best of times, child welfare systems in California are beleaguered, underfunded, and stressed.  There are too few social workers for foster children and their troubled birth families, and these caseworkers are often overworked within a huge bureaucratic system.  Juvenile Dependency judges have caseloads of 500 children, and children’s attorneys are likewise overloaded.  Last year, California had 83,000 children living in foster care—the largest number of any state in the nation.

Times are tough enough for a child who has been removed from their family because of parental abuse or neglect.  And foster care is nothing we would wish on any child.  But the invisible, stealthy, silent enemy that is COVID-19 has thrown all of this dysfunction into even more chaos.

More and more, child welfare departments are starting to limit in-person emergency visits to only the most severe cases.  Thus, welfare check-ups are going down just when the potential for child abuse is rising.  For social workers, the potential toll is physical as well as emotional. The national shortage of gloves, masks, and safety gear is impacting foster care, as case workers worry about visiting homes without any protection.  The court’s mandated visits between biological families and children are stopped because of the pandemic.  And shutdowns at family courts are burdening all parties—children and families, judges, court professionals, foster families—and the result will be even longer stays in foster care for children who have already experienced unthinkable adverse life experiences.

The closing of schools has been a disaster for abused children.  Teachers are the primary reporters of suspicious bruises or behavior suggesting child abuse. But now those protective eyes and ears are not on children who may be being seriously hurt at home. There is a rise in admissions to hospitals of children injured by family members, and it is not surprising.  Sadly, history has shown us that child abuse increases when there is heightened family stress such as that now being brought on by the Coronavirus pandemic.

But there can be other valuable “eyes and ears” on children:  Court Appointed Special Advocates — called “CASAs”—who play a powerful part in California’s foster care system statewide.  In Orange County, CASA of Orange County is an important community resource.  Our CASAs are ordinary citizens who volunteer to be the “voice” of a child in foster care.  They are recruited and well-trained by one of the 44 local CASA programs that cover the regions of California where 99% of foster children live.  Today, across the state, 9,000 of these volunteers are advocating for 14,000 children in foster care.  Right now in Orange County County, we have 560 active CASAs assigned to help over 560 foster children and youth in our community.

Supervised in their advocacy work by CASA program professionals, CASA volunteers are effective and influential advocates for children in court and in school.  Moreover, they are mentors and friends – adult role models for children who have suffered greatly and who have lost all trust in adults.  CASAs help children get the medical and educational support they need, and they work with the professionals in the child welfare system towards either reunification with a family (if services are completed) or towards adoption and a permanent living plan for the child.

COVID-19 has dramatically upended the landscape for CASA programs.  CASAs can no longer visit their case children face-to-face, and can only connect through text, phone, or Facetime.  With school out, it is harder for CASAs to inspire a child to do their homework or read more books.  CASAs try to help their children from the required “social distance,” but it is difficult.  There are now no outings to a park, a library, or an ice cream shop—those “ordinary” times a CASA shares with a child who may be deprived of such experiences.  Most importantly, many Juvenile Dependency courts are now either shut down or operating on limited schedules, and so the critical court advocacy that CASAs offer to foster children is on temporary hold.  All the while, the child is living in temporary and often less-than-ideal foster circumstances, not sure what the future holds or where he or she will be living next month or next year.  Older foster youth are suffering from lost jobs or, if they were attending college, a lost school year—including no dorm living.  For these older kids, the chance increases for them to become homeless, hungry, sick, trafficked, or tempted into crime.

Like all nonprofits, CASA programs are facing a drastic drop in contributed income.  Fundraising events have been canceled, and donations are shrinking.  While volunteers are the heart of the CASA movement, these nonprofit CASA programs are essential to professionally recruit, train, and supervise critical court advocates.  The truth is:  we need CASAs now more than ever.  And we need more of them.  We know we will be seeing a rise in child abuse and in children entering foster care.  A CASA can be a beacon of hope to a child who has lost all hope, and it is essential that the CASA system in California be shored up and adequately supported by public and private funders.  CASAs are critical in helping children recover from trauma and ultimately find that safe “forever family” that we wish for all kids.

Foster children are our children, and we must help them through this pandemic nightmare which impacts them so disproportionately.  Even at the height of this pandemic, CASA of Orange County  is recruiting volunteers and is prepared to conduct training “virtually” while we practice social distancing.  What better way to spend time at home than training to be a CASA?  We need you!  

We cannot let this global health pandemic evolve into a child abuse pandemic.  And we cannot allow those children entering foster care to be left to languish because there are not enough CASAs to advocate for their best interests.  We urge the California State Legislature to enact emergency support for the 44 CASA programs that are helping 14,000 children and that must continue to do this important work even through the horror of the COVID-19 pandemic.  And we urge members of the community to step up now and volunteer to help a child.  We must not forget the abused, neglected children in our community.  They need and deserve the advocacy that only a CASA can deliver.  

Regan Phillips; Esq., MSW, CEO

CASA of Orange County

About Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA)

Court Appointed Special Advocates of Orange County is a privately-funded non-profit organization that serves severely abused, neglected and abandoned children through the recruitment, training and continued support of volunteers who advocate and mentor these children, representing their best interest in the courtroom and other settings. Founded in 1985, with major support from the Junior League of Orange County, CASA serves over 750 of the children who move through the dependency court system due to being victims of abuse and neglect. We are able to serve these children through the generous support of those who donate to CASA as well as the immeasurable compassion and commitment of our CASA advocates. At CASA of Orange County, our mantra is I am for the Child. Learn more about the ways to give to CASA as a means to help us support and protect the rights of our county’s most vulnerable children and to give them the nurturing and stability that they deserve. Please visit to learn more.                                                

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CASA Spotlight - Kimberly Der

This month we shine our spotlight on Advocate Kimberly Der!

Timing is everything as proven by Kimberly’s seemingly short lived CASA experience. 

In 2012 Kimberly felt God was calling her to do volunteer work. Interestingly, CASA kept popping up in her radar over and over again and feeling curious about the program, Kimberly decided to check it out. Info night was powerful and offered a good fit for the kind of volunteer work she was looking to do in her season of life at the time.

After completing her training in 2012, Kimberly was matched with *Jackie, a 9-year old girl whose favorite thing to do was eating in the car. Kimberly recalls that Jackie was a tough kid with no one to visit her at the emergency shelter where she lived. The opportunity to bond with Jackie came when Kimberly took her to a fall festival where she coached Jackie to hit the bull’s eye.  Sadly, after only five months on the case, Jackie’s case jurisdiction transferred to another county, thus ending Kimberly’s first CASA appointment.  

After this short assignment, Kimberly’s focus in life shifted. She went to Africa to do missionary work, got married, and began a family. It was a new and full season of life. Six years went by. It was 2018 when she received a call from CASA. Once again, CASA presented a volunteer opportunity uniquely suited to Kimberly’s season of life.  She was happy to learn that as a Family Connections volunteer, Kimberly could do volunteer work from home while her young children napped. It was a perfect fit with perfect timing.

As a Family Connections volunteer, Kimberly recalls a “snapshot” moment in her current case when she started connecting with relatives who did not know a child in their family was in foster care. After the initial work of identifying relatives and sending letters, the phone started ringing off the hook.  Kimberly remembers the social worker being pleasantly surprised that relatives had been found and were coming forward.  For Kimberly, it was rewarding to find people who were open and interested in connecting with their young family member.

As with every worthy endeavor, there are challenges. For Kimberly as a Family Connections advocate, the greatest fear is rejection. It can be discouraging not hearing back from relatives because they are not interested in connecting with the child . It can also be intimidating to pick up the phone and wonder who is on the other end of the line. Making cold calls and starting conversations with total strangers can be difficult as well, but Kimberly pushes through all these challenges. 

Kimberly’s internal motivation to keep going is fueled by her initial CASA/Family Connections training and her ongoing continued education on issues surrounding children in foster care. She remembers a particular documentary of a young person who was needlessly kept in foster care. The young person in the documentary said, “There were people out there, and I didn’t know.” This quote stuck with Kimberly and is the reason why she is a Family Connections volunteer. Kimberly says, “Kids have no idea that they have family out there. How cool is it that these adults have the ability to change their lives!”

Being a Family Connections volunteer offers flexibility to advocate from home and because Kimberly is a mom with young children, this is a big plus for her.  In fact, this interview was conducted while her little ones were napping!  Kimberly shares that being a Family Connections advocate gives her an avenue to do impactful work and to have a focus to serve others outside her role as a mom. She enjoys utilizing her skills and the feeling of having a project of her own.  The hard moments come after the initial efforts are completed, waiting for people to respond,  running into dead ends, or hearing a rejection from family. Her various Family Connection cases have had different outcomes that motivate Kimberly to continue to do good in the midst of bleak statistics for children in foster care. Connecting families and helping facilitate family engagement opportunities are exciting and positive experiences.

Her advice for CASAs is to consider if Family Connections is a way they can remain active in doing good in the world; being a family connections advocate is meaningful volunteer work. Kimberly went on to share, “Are there life changes? Talk to your Case Supervisor to find other avenues to help.  Take a break if needed, but choose to give out to others.  It’s amazing what you can do one hour a week. An hour a week can have such a drastic impact in a family.”

Our conversation with Kimberly concluded just as her little ones were waking up from their nap proving that timing is indeed everything.

Kimberly’s Case Supervisor, Sylvia Novakoff, shares this about her:  “After a multi-year absence from CASA, Kimberly returned and trained to be a Family Connections advocate. In 2018 she hit the ground running. She is on her third sibling case and has impacted nine young lives so far. Juggling the care of two small children at home, Kimberly is organized, calm, and undaunted in her simultaneous role as an advocate for our youth and a partner to their family members.  She operates from a place of compassion and urgency that serves our program well. I am honored to have her on my team.”

*Name changed to protect confidentiality

January 2020 Training Class

CASA Spotlight - Kathleen Fiedler

This month we shine our spotlight on Advocate Kathleen Fiedler!

Kathleen always wanted to give back to her community in some way, but never had the time to fully dedicate herself to a meaningful cause. Once her two boys went off to college, she had some free time to volunteer.  Being a mother of two boys has only helped her to better navigate her CASA relationship with her youth. She knows not to act as a parent, and rather uses her experience as a guide and integrates certain activities that her sons enjoyed growing up into her CASA outings. She was sworn-in at CASA in August 2018, and is currently on her second case. Her first case made a significant impact on her life and she developed an irreplaceable bond with her youth.

Kathleen was first matched with a young, apprehensive 9 year-old boy named Dylan*. At the start of Dylan and Kathleen’s CASA relationship, Dylan was especially shy. During their outings, Kathleen would usually receive a head nod of “yes” or “no”. But sometimes, Kathleen would see a sparkle in his eyes when she came up with an idea that peaked his interest. When out together initially, he would look back over his shoulder about every 30 seconds just to make sure that Kathleen was still behind him. She would always reassure him that she was still there and her job was to keep him safe and, of course, to have fun on their outings!

Dylan grew up with three older siblings and a mother who was constantly homeless due to her mental health issues and drug addiction. He was secluded from the world and was not exposed to the normal experiences that a young boy his age should be exposed to. After being removed from their home, Dylan and his siblings were placed with their godmother. About a year after living with her, they had to go back to the emergency shelter when their godmother was unable to take care of them for sometime due to medical issues. When this happened, Kathleen made a point to see him every week. The support and comfort she gave him- knowing that she would continue to show up for him even through the toughest of times- showed him how much she truly cared about him and allowed him to really trust Kathleen at that point in their relationship. After a little over six months, Dylan finally started to open up to her.

Kathleen constantly tried to integrate some type of educational experience into each outing or, at the very least, get Dylan to try something he has never tried before. For example, Kathleen took him kayaking, to the tide pools, had a picnic, and explored the pet shop, Dana Point harbor, dog rescues, and laser tag- all these things he experienced for the first time with Kathleen. She taught him how to shake someone’s hand, introduce himself, use eye contact, and order at a restaurant. Kathleen knew Dylan needed to work on his math skills, so she gave him a notebook for him to take on every outing and she asked him to write down the expenses for each outing and she would let him calculate the total cost.

Kathleen also set rules and established boundaries right away. She let him know that she was not his ATM machine and emphasized the low to no cost outing ideas with him. He really wanted to do laser tag, so she explained to him that laser tag was more expensive and they would need to save up for something so special. Kathleen taught him how to budget and eventually they saved enough money to go do laser tag, which made it even more special and exciting to him.

Kathleen had two great successes on this case. The first success she recalls was when Dylan no longer feared dogs. Dylan was terrified of dogs, so Kathleen made a point to introduce him to smaller, friendlier animals (like bunnies) and eventually work up to bigger,more intimidating animals. In time, he learned how to approach a dog and ultimately, pet a dog. There was one moment that Kathleen especially remembers-Dylan hugged a German Shepard and the dog gave him a big slobbery kiss on his face. He looked at Kathleen with joy and she knew that was the moment he got over his fear of dogs. The second successful moment Kathleen recalls was when Dylan asked Kathleen to teach him how to float in the pool- he trusted her enough to ask her to teach him.

Kathleen’s greatest challenge as a CASA was when she first started and came into this role with an expectation that things would progress faster than they did. She learned that she needed to be patient and meet Dylan where he was at. Relationships and trust take time, especially when working with foster youth.

After 15 months with his CASA, Kathleen, Dylan’s godmother officially became the legal guardian to him and his three other siblings. The case is now closed, but Kathleen made sure to let him know that she will always be here for him no matter what. In fact, Kathleen has been putting a photo album together for Dylan of the time they spent together. She plans to surprise him with this photo album sometime soon when they see each other for the first time since the closing of his case.

Kathleen feels that her experience at CASA would not be as amazing as it has been without the guidance and support from her case supervisor, Cindy. Cindy always has low-cost outing suggestions and is able to put things in perspective for Kathleen. She is grateful to her case supervisor and emphasized the importance of this relationship for all CASAs. Kathleen’s advice to other CASAs is to always be consistent, show up and meet your youth where they are at.

Kathleen's Case Supervisor, Cindy Nydell, shares this about her:  "Kathleen was matched with her first youth on 9/7/18.  She did a fantastic job in working with her youth to teach him about many different things but more importantly took him out into the community to do things he had never done before.  She always made sure that he was comfortable during each outing and helped him to get over some of his fears.  He was lucky to have Kathleen as his CASA until the case closed.  Kathleen is now matched with her second youth. I am so thankful to have Kathleen on my caseload and it is a joy to see her helping our youth.”

*Name changed to protect confidentiality

CASA Spotlight - Larry Wright

This month we shine our spotlight on Advocate Larry Wright!

Before becoming a CASA, Larry volunteered in a mentoring program through his church and he also had connections with professionals involved in helping foster youth who would share with him about the plight of children who are in the dependency system and their need for mentors and advocates. Yet, Larry found through CASA that there is still so much more to learn about the world of foster care.  He describes his CASA experience by saying, “Starting at the bottom, I am climbing the advocate hill and planting the flag at the top.” This metaphor reflects Larry’s style in his CASA journey.

One of his first experiences in climbing the advocate hill had to do with establishing his role and expectations with his CASA youth’s caregivers. You see, Larry had assumed that the caregivers were fully aware of his CASA role.  It was his first hill to climb, and he did it successfully. Larry shares that the caregivers were very sincere and were not simply trying to be difficult. He eliminated the fog of confusion by taking the time to explain his role again. He showed them the CASA brochure again and explained the do’s and don’ts of CASAs. There would be other hills to climb, but Larry knew that to be successful, he would need to make sure not to assume anything. Larry goes on to share that in his professional life, he was the decision maker and the guy in charge of things. However in his CASA role, Larry has taken to heart the wise counsel his CASA case supervisor gave him at the start of the case - to take time to get to know his CASA youth and the team.

When describing his relationship with Joshua*, his CASA youth, Larry says that they hit it off from the beginning because Joshua is a pleasant young man with great potential. Larry recalls reading in the file about Joshua’s mental health challenges and multiple psychiatric hospitalizations and the potential challenges he would encounter working with such a youth. However, Larry also knew that “the file is not the kid” so he was pleasantly surprised when he met Joshua in person. It has been a pleasure working with Joshua; nonetheless, Larry sees the trauma and its effects in Joshua’s life. 

Being child-focused as he continues to climb the advocate hill, Larry humbly prefers to use the phrase “steps forward” to describe successes in his case. One step forward involves Larry’s advocacy to bring attention to medical issues that were not being properly addressed. He advocated for Joshua by working with the team to be patient with the youth, to allow him time and space, and to encourage him in his horse therapy plan. Another step forward involved coordinating educational resources which resulted in improved behavior at school and awareness of school issues.  Now Joshua is feeling supported, is much more comfortable at school, and was even been elected to the associated student body which gave him the opportunity to give a speech. Because Joshua is almost 17 years old, Larry is also pursuing steps forward in the area of independent living skills and says that Joshua is “rock and rolling” Orangewood resources. One key component in Larry’s ability to take steps forward is his attitude toward the youth’s team members. Larry assumes the best from them and believes that everyone is doing their best. He is non-judgmental toward the various parties. Being mindful of Joshua's trauma and needs, Larry also finds extremely helpful all the training that CASA provides to help him understand trauma and its effects. His approach as a mentor is not to interrogate Joshua, but to listen. Larry often helps Joshua think of his worth, his potential, and his future by visualizing his life and thinking of a plan to execute his goals. In affirming Joshua’s dreams, Larry also capitalizes on opportunities to subtly say, “By the way, can we work on your math skills?” A funny story Larry likes to share is the one when Joshua first met him. Joshua thought that Larry was a senior detective and that he, Joshua, was on parole!  It’s a funny story and they laugh about it, but Larry also sees this as an example of the need to not assume anything.  Because of this, he reinforces often to Joshua that his role is to be his advocate and mentor and to encourage trust and open communication.  Because some of the best communication takes place while you drive, Larry recalls a sweet moment in the car when Joshua turned to him and said, “We are a team.” Needless to say that Joshua no longer believes he is on parole!

Larry feels grateful for all the learning opportunities CASA alone provides and would like to encourage his fellow CASAs on their journey. He would like them to remember two things: “One is that you have to really be a listener - focus on that.  A problem solver attitude needs to be put aside. You really have to listen!”  The other word or advice Larry gives is three-fold, “Be reliable, be trustworthy, and be consistent.” In his experience, Larry tries to keep his word to Joshua and does not play it off against others. 

Being Joshua’s friend and mentor is Larry’s favorite part of being a CASA. Larry says that spending time with Joshua and enjoying casual outings has shown him that Joshua is nothing like the description he read in the file.  As with anything in life, there are least favorite things we must do. For Larry, it’s the admin work of being a CASA; however, he is quick to say that it has to be done and there is no way around it. Larry goes on to say that it helps to have been sensitized to the deep and urgent need our foster kids have.  Larry takes his commitment to Joshua very seriously. He is also committed to the CASA mission and shares it saying, “I don’t know why, but I can’t help but share.” Larry says this is something Joshua would say as he invites others to join the cause.

Because Larry realizes that being a CASA requires teamwork, he stays in touch with his case supervisor, Natalie, and does not hesitate to rely on her expertise and resourcefulness. He also loves attending CASA to CASA events to learn tips and to receive encouragement. He advises other CASAs to reach out to their case supervisors as he has never had a situation in which he felt Natalie was not able to help.

In closing, Larry shares that he enjoys expanding Joshua’s world through their outings. They have a list of outings Joshua would like to try and a list of things Joshua would like to learn. From wanting to learn to speak Spanish, swim, or learn to read an analog clock, Joshua’s appetite for learning is huge.  Rotating from In-N-Out, Starbucks, and Barnes and Noble would be enough to keep Joshua happy, but Larry is intentional in scheduling activities to help expand Joshua’s world.  And so with each step forward, Larry continues to climb the advocate hill to help Joshua create a brighter future.

Natalie Stack, Larry’s supervisor, shares this about him:  " Larry is a fabulous CASA! He started his journey as a CASA a little over a year ago and continues to impress me every time I talk to him. He is dedicated to advocating for his youth's needs and is present at every meeting and hearing supporting him. He knows how to collaborate with others and always acknowledges and celebrates his youth's successes and strengths. His CASA youth is lucky to have Larry by his side. Great job, Larry!"

*Name changed to protect confidentiality

CASA Spotlight - Kristy Ulley

This month we shine our spotlight on Advocate Kristy Ulley!

Kristy has an enormous heart and a passion for giving back. She first heard about CASA when she saw an ad for the organization and knew right away that this was her calling. She had always wanted to volunteer, but never had enough time- she is a single mom and always had a packed schedule taking care of her son. When her son graduated from college, she finally had enough time to give her heart to something she was passionate about.

When Kristy started the 30 hours of training at CASA she found it to be so informative and interesting to learn about the foster care system and how to be a constant in a young person’s life. She knew she had found the right cause for her. She was sworn in December 2018. When her case supervisor called her about a possible match, she was excited, eager, yet nervous. She wanted to be matched with a teen mom, and CASA found the perfect match for her. She accepted the case and started a journey that would not only impact her youth’s life, but her life as well.

Kristy’s CASA youth is a single, 17 year old mother who has a beautiful smile and kind heart. Their first visit was at Juvenile Hall while she was pregnant with her first child. Lily* easily opened up to Kristy from day one. When Kristy first met Lily at Juvenile Hall, she knew right away that she was a good person. She was kind, mature and shook Kristy’s hand right away. From the beginning, Kristy was able to easily develop a trusting relationship with her youth and was able to understand her struggles as a teen mom, as she had once gone through that experience herself.

Lily has been in the foster care system for ten years and has had sixteen placements. She has been in trouble with the law a couple times and has a history of AWOLing (absent without leave) from her placements. She has no one in her corner- her two siblings were adopted and she does not have any contact with the paternal or maternal side of her family. The father of her child and his mom are the only people whom she considers family.

Kristy describes her advocating style as informative- to just be present and to listen. She never judges her youth or pushes her to do something she is not ready to do. So, when Lily decided that she would like to stay in the foster care system once she turns 18, Kristy was thrilled. Kristy describes this as her greatest success as a CASA so far- encouraging her youth to stay in the foster care system after her 18th birthday. They discussed the benefits in length, talked about budgeting, going to college, goal setting, and the continued support that would be provided to her until she turns 21. Lily would like to go to nursing school once she graduates from high school and, ultimately, wants to work with the geriatric population.

Kristy’s greatest challenges on this case have been working within the system and the commute to Lily’s group home in Perris every month. Kristy finds it challenging to advocate for her youth in court, but always encourages Lily to attend her hearings so that she can voice her needs and wants to the Judge herself. Kristy sees Lily every 2-3 weeks at her group home in Paris, CA. She travels an hour and a half each way to see her youth for a few hours. While outings are limited, Kristy has managed to find creative activities for them to do. Kristy introduced her to scrapbooking when they created a baby photo album together of her son. She also introduced her to goal setting and financial management. Lily did not understand what the word ‘goal’ meant until she met Kristy.

Kristy has been a CASA for about a year now and has already made a huge impact on her CASA youth’s life. She is a compassionate, committed advocate who has modeled what a healthy, positive relationship looks like and empowered Lily to make her own choices. She has been the one constant in her youth’s life and has been able to give her a voice when she needs it the most. Kristy expresses that “this has been a humbling experience so far and [I] love being a CASA to my youth”. Kristy’s one piece of advice to other CASA advocates is to always make commitments that you can keep.

Kristy’s case supervisor, Donna Doocy, shares this about her:
“Kristy has been a CASA for about one year and glided into her role as an advocate from day one. She has worked with a teen parent who lives in Riverside County and has driven from her home in LA County once a month to visit to visit her as well as SKYPE to maintain contact. Kristy has not only taught her youth how to budget and shop but has also role modeled superior parenting skills. Kristy has always been there for her youth which has included being a voice for her in Court and with her social worker. She is encouraging, supportive and understanding. Kristy is a prime example of what a CASA looks like! Thank you, Kristy!”

*Name changed to protect confidentiality

November 2019 Training Class

Congratulations to our 28 newly sworn-in advocates. These amazing volunteers went through November 2019 CASA Training, and were sworn in by Judge Ufland on 12/19/2019. We are honored to have them on our team and we look forward to working with them all on their first case assignments!

2019 Friends of CASA Holiday Luncheon



Matthew Wadlinger

Chief Communications Officer



Santa Ana, Calif. (December 17, 2019) – Friends of CASA, a membership auxiliary of Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Orange County, hosted its annual Holiday Luncheon & Fashion Show on Wednesday, December 11, at The Monarch Beach Resort in Dana Point. The Luncheon and Fashion Show that began as a Holiday Tea 24 years ago has brought in over 4.5 million dollars since 1995. This year’s Luncheon had a record breaking net for the sixth year in a row – with $481,809* that will go directly to supporting CASA’s mission of providing a powerful voice and a meaningful connection for children who have experienced abuse, neglect and abandonment.

The Luncheon was chaired by Jennifer Gonzales Oxen, Sandi Marino and Debbie Masek, who were assisted by a team of over 85 members from the Friends of CASA (FOCASA) auxiliary group, which is led by FOCASA President, Lori Jackson. Five hundred and forty six guests filled the halls and decks outside of the ballroom to bid on 208 auction packages during the champagne reception. Guests were able to fulfill a foster child’s wish through ornaments placed on the “Starfish Wish Trees”, featuring 224 different wishes from the children in the CASA program which included items like dance and cooking classes, art supplies, summer camps and a laptop computer for a college bound young adult. For the third year in a row the trees were sponsored and beautifully decorated by Barclay Butera Interiors.

The reception area and ballroom at the Monarch Beach Resort were exquisitely decorated with holiday touches that sparkled in hues of pink and dark green and styled by Elite OC Productions. This year’s fashion show was presented by Kate Spade New York and South Coast Plaza and produced by Deborah Keillor. The event was hosted by former NFL Quarterback, Mark Sanchez who greeted guests at the start of the program with CASA CEO, Regan Phillips, before walking the runway with his 2 year old son. Kate Spade New York showed 24 beautiful looks from their Summer 2020 collection, and guests at the Luncheon were among the first people to ever see the collection.

This year’s keynote speaker was CASA volunteer, Sarah Randall. Sarah shared her story of becoming a CASA over ten years ago and working with five youth in the foster care system. “It is so gratifying to tell you that not only did Enrique graduate from high school but he is the first in his family to go to college. He is at Golden West College and wants to transfer to UCI. He has a job. He is responsible, conscientious and makes his own decisions. He is confident, mature and can advocate for himself. I am so proud of him.” Sarah continued with her speech, “I want to thank you on Enrique’s behalf and on behalf of all of our foster youth. Enrique’s story is just one story. There are thousands. Our children in foster care just need one person who supports them and sees them for the unique individual they are. The CASA model works because research shows that children who have experienced trauma and feel helpless and afraid just need one consistent person in their lives to believe in them and care about them. This relationship helps to foster resilience and empowers healing in the children by communicating to them that they matter and are not alone. CASAs are this person.” Sarah was then surprised on stage by Enrique, who was holding a bouquet of flowers and gave her a hug that was later joined in by CASA CEO, Regan Phillips and Mark Sanchez.

The opportunity drawing was provided by Lugano Diamonds who generously donated Oval Hoop Earrings (18K White Gold, .97 carats round VS collection White Diamonds) and a White Diamond Bangle (18L 4.04 carats VS collections White Diamonds). Friends of CASA Holiday Luncheon Committee Member, Shannon Smaldino was the lucky winner.

The Diamond Starfish Sponsor for this year’s event is the Official Jewelry Sponsor, Lugano Diamonds. Ruby Starfish Sponsors included Carol and John Demorest & Susie and George Wood, New American Funding & Valia Properties & Mara Murray, The 3 J’s – Joanna, Jamie and Jill, and Lucy Donahue.

Friends of CASA are committed to raising funds for CASA of Orange County’s mentor-advocate program for abused and neglected children in the foster care system.  Through the annual Holiday Luncheon, the Friends of CASA raise awareness of the CASA program, recruiting volunteers and long-term donors to CASA. This year’s Executive Committee of the Holiday Luncheon was comprised by the following Friends of CASA members: Kimberly DeLamar Matties, Michelle Fisher, Cathy Fitzpatrick, Maggie Flornes, Tiffanie Foster, Jennifer Hanlon, Annette Hellmich, Lori Jackson, Joanna James, Nicole Joseph, Patty Juarez, Deborah Keillor, Debra Klein, Mei Li, Colleen Masterson, Sarah Minakary, Meldie Moore, Valerie Ramsay, Melissa Rohani, Stefanie Stamires, Sara Van Dusen, Janine Wald and Marjie Zethraus.

About Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA)

Court Appointed Special Advocates of Orange County is a privately-funded non-profit organization that serves severely abused, neglected and abandoned children through the recruitment, training and continued support of volunteers who advocate for and mentor these children, representing their best interest in the courtroom and other settings. Founded in 1985, with major support from the Junior League of Orange County, CASA provides a powerful voice and a meaningful connection for children who have experienced abuse, neglect and abandonment. We are able to serve these children through the generous support of those who donate to CASA as well as the immeasurable compassion and commitment of our CASA advocates. Please visit to learn more.

# # #

*an earlier version of this press release was published on 12/17/2019 with a net total of $475k, which has since been revised to $481k+ (01/03/2020)

Event Chairs: Debbie Masek, Sandi Marino, Jennifer Gonzales Oxen
Friends of CASA Holiday Luncheon Executive Committee Members

Friends of CASA Holiday Luncheon All Committee Members
Friends of CASA President, Lori Jackson
Keynote Speaker + CASA volunteer, Sarah Randall
Master of Ceremonies, Mark Sanchez and CASA-OC CEO, Regan Phillips
Selena Aguirre and CASA volunteer, Helen Benziger

CASA Spotlight - Debbie Logston

This month we shine our spotlight on Advocate Debbie Logston!

Bringing joy, fun, and hope is Debbie’s style in her approach to serving others. From her earlier volunteer work serving the elderly community to her current role at CASA serving foster youth, Debbie feels blessed to be able to help others. At the end of the summer of 2014, after being prompted on three different occasions  and in three different ways, she felt compelled to become a CASA. First, it was her friend at work who told her about her experience being a CASA. Then, it was the moving video she watched while waiting to be called for jury duty. Lastly, it was the amazing story she heard on the radio about CASA helping children find and connect with family members they did not know existed. That was it. Debbie knew she had to respond to the call to get involved.  When asked about what specifically attracted her to CASA, Debbie quickly replies that she likes the one-on-one mentoring relationship she can have with a foster youth. The court piece is frustrating, she admits, but mentoring and encouraging the kids during their ups and downs is what she treasures most. She also likes that her role as a CASA is unique.

As Debbie reflects on her first case, she recalls that from the get go, *Charlie was somewhat shy, but  easy-going, caring, and polite. Making a connection was easy. Debbie was careful to notice his simple acts of kindness which would then spark conversations. Since Charlie had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, Debbie would also let him know that she was looking out for him by gently touching his hand or his shoulder to help him feel safe. She saw that this simple touch was a signal to him that she cared. Because Debbie was able to build trust with his biological family, Charlie felt that he could trust her as well.  Charlie had social and family problems, so Debbie’s style was to come across as a friend who cared and was interested in him. As their relationship grew, Debbie felt that she could challenge him to be his best and to reach his potential. In their two and a half years together, their topics of conversation evolved from casual and superficial chatter to deeper and more meaningful talks.

Debbie’s second case is quite different in many ways. Her current match is *Gloria, a teen girl who has gone through homelessness, abuse, neglect, abandonment, and she suffers from mental health issues. It’s a different case altogether, but Debbie’s approach is the same - let the child know that she has someone she can trust. Gloria does not have any family connections, but in Debbie, Gloria knows that she has a mentor and perhaps even a mother-figure. Bonding with Gloria was made easy because early on, Debbie defined their relationship based on the time spent together rather than gifts or the amount of money spent on the outings. Gloria knows that connections are made through experiences and that it takes time. In over two years of working with Gloria, Debbie has been the only constant person in her life. Gloria’s perception is that Debbie is her “fun” person in her team, and this is true. But in a subtle way, Debbie also is the person who holds her accountable and encourages her to grow in her coping and decision-making skills.  Without being overbearing, Debbie is a strong advocate for Gloria because she is always in the know of what is happening in Gloria’s life. This helps Gloria see the big picture of her plan of care. Gloria’s resilience is admirable. Debbie hopes that she has helped her along the way by showing Gloria that she is committed to her success.

When talking about what Debbie feels is her greatest success as a CASA, she identifies two things: being someone the youth trusts and being a permanent connection for them.  She is still in touch with Charlie and his family, even though they have moved out of state. Debbie warmly recalls the honor of being invited as a special guest to an event celebrating the family’s successful reunification outcome.  With Gloria, Debbie continues to pour into her life being her constant “fun” person, being a good listener, and being an honest friend who will encourage her and even hold her accountable when necessary.

Debbie goes on to share that being a CASA also has its challenges and frustrations. She notes that she is especially discouraged when the system works slowly and opportunities are missed. She is specially broken-hearted at the number of kids who linger in the system. If she had a wish, she would like to help prevent some of the issues that bring children to the attention of the Court. Debbie says that breaking the cycle of abuse is the solution to decreasing the number of kids in foster care.  Because Debbie feels so deeply about these issues, she reminds herself to keep her emotional involvement in check so that she does not cross healthy boundaries. She admits that it’s hard to resist getting involved beyond her role, but she has learned to trust that she is doing her part by being a good CASA. She also realizes that others also have roles to play so it’s not all on her.  Her goal is to be as impactful as possible within her boundaries. When thinking about Gloria, she wishes she could provide more, but finds comfort in knowing that she is the person who has the most longevity in Gloria’s team.   

Getting to know her CASA kids is rewarding for Debbie. She also appreciates the community of staff and volunteers at CASA. She is thankful that through CASA, she has the opportunity to do good in our society.  Her advice to her fellow CASAs is to take time to process thoughts and observations with the assigned case supervisor. Debbie tries to follow her own advice, which has helped her come up with creative ideas for the team to consider. Debbie would also like to tell other CASAs to try to meet the children at their level, to listen to what they want to do, to learn what makes them happy and brings them joy, and to be their stability in a not-so-stable situation.

In closing, Debbie would like to see a wider outreach so that more people become aware of the opportunity to help foster youth.  She wants the CASA mission become more visible in our community.

Debbie's CASA Supervisor, Veronica Sansonetti, shares these words about Debbie:

"Debbie loves being the “fun” person for her CASA kids, but she is also a “tiger” when it comes to following up with the team for the needs of her CASA kids. Placing phone calls, sending emails or texts, entering notes in Optima, writing reports, researching, processing information with me, etc, are all important tasks that I can trust Debbie to perform - and she does it all with a good attitude! I love Debbie’s fun and easy going attitude paired with her tenacity and integrity.  Debbie, we value your spirit of volunteerism and desire to spread awareness of our mission. You are a great CASA ambassador!"

*Name changed to protect confidentiality.

Advocate Spotlight - Florence Lehavi

This month we shine our spotlight on Advocate Florence Lehavi!

Florence Lehavi

Florence Lehavi has been a CASA volunteer since 2016. She became interested in learning about CASA and how she can get involved about 10 years ago when her friend invited her to the annual CASA Holiday Luncheon. Florence thought “it was an amazing idea for these kids to have an extra person, with no agenda other than the best interest of the child, involved in their lives”. She could not commit to CASA at the time, but once her daughter was older, Florence quickly completed the 30 hours of training and started a journey that would change her life forever.

CASA challenged her from the very beginning with her first case being described as “always challenging”. Florence first met *Nicole when she was 16 years old. Nicole had a very hard time trusting people, primarily because her parents completely abandoned her and she got involved in gang life shortly thereafter. The father of her first child was a gang member and she tended to use drugs and run away from her placement frequently. Nicole tested her often, but Florence did not give in and was able to set boundaries right away. During one of their first outings, Nicole showed up high and Florence could tell she was under the influence. She firmly let Nicole know that she would not allow their outings to take place if she was under the influence. Nicole never showed up high again. Though Nicole had a tough attitude and never said thank you during their outings, Florence consistently showed up and never showed judgment. Florence’s relationship with Nicole was not easy and it took a lot of time to develop, but Florence was able to eventually gain her trust. Nicole eventually started to share things with Florence that she would never consider sharing with her foster parents. Florence learned how important it was to establish trust and boundaries in order to teach her respect and appreciation.

Originally, Nicole told Florence that she wanted to go to Santa Ana College and do something with television in her future. That dream eventually faded and Florence’s focus shifted to just helping her graduate high school. Nicole had an IEP and really struggled in school. Florence became her Educational Rights Holder after some time on the case- Nicole had no one else in her corner. Florence went to all her meetings at the school and made sure not to make any decisions without talking to her first. She listened to her needs and wants; and, when Nicole asked to go to a continuation school, Florence made sure that that would happen for her. Florence’s greatest success on this case was seeing Nicole graduate from high school. At the time, it felt nearly impossible, but as her advocate, Florence persevered until she got the job done. Nicole emancipated as soon as she turned 18, but she has her CASA to thank for making the impossible possible.

When Florence was reassigned to another case, she had no trouble developing a trusting relationship with *Alex.  Alex really wanted a CASA and was excited to meet Florence. Shortly after they met, Alex came out to his mom. His mom thought he was possessed by demons and wanted to perform an exorcism on him. His mom dropped him off at the Orangewood emergency shelter because she simply did not want to care for him anymore. He was rejected by his entire family. Alex became very depressed and started to use drugs, drink alcohol, and run away from the group home. It was heartbreaking for Florence to see him this way, so she decided to do something about it. She wanted to find something for him to do to get his mind off everything that had caused him so much pain in his life. With help from CASA, Florence signed him up for guitar lessons. He loves playing his guitar and music has been very therapeutic for him. When the court recently terminated family reunification services, Alex moved to a family friend’s place. He enjoys living there and calls his caregivers mom and dad and the two boys in the home his brothers. He is stable and currently receiving all A’s in school.

Florence started her CASA role with high expectations, but quickly learned that she had to adjust accordingly to meet youth where they are at. As a CASA, Florence shares how important it is to remain a constant in the youth’s life and to not take anything personally. Florence’s time as a CASA thus far has taught her the importance of understanding other people’s culture and she has learned how to be more accepting of others.

Florence’s favorite part about being a CASA is the time that she gets to spend with her CASA youth. Whether it is watching scary movies together, talking about life, or just grabbing a bite to eat, the quality time spent with them is what makes being a CASA some memorable to Florence.

Florence's Case Supervisor, Maureen Madison, shares this about her:

"Florence has been a CASA for over 3.5 years and is on her second case.  She does a great job advocating for her youth's needs and making sure that he is happy in his placement, keeping up in school and that he has the opportunity to participate in activities outside of school. She also makes a point of encouraging her youth to make healthy choices in life.   Her court attendance is stellar and she's always ready and willing to give a report to the judge and to represent her youth's perspective to the social worker. Florence takes her youth on interesting outings, exposing him to experiences he would otherwise not have.  Great job, Florence!"

*Name changed to protect confidentiality.

CASAs-on-the-Go: Colin Kingston

Every month CASA volunteer's receive a newsletter with resources, upcoming events and more. One of the most popular sections of the newsletter is titled "CASAs on the Go" written by Colin Kingston, a dedicated volunteer who has been serving through CASA since the mid '90s. He continues to volunteer even though he's no longer a CASA on a traditional case and we are so thankful for the impact he's making from states away! Thank you Colin!

-Where do you live and what is your profession?

Last year I joined AmeriCorps and moved to Manhattan, Kansas. AmeriCorps is the cousin to the Peace Corps. Whereas the Peace Corps helps people outside of the United States, AmeriCorps helps people inside the United States.

I am serving as a Grant Writer for The SAVE Farm (Service Agricultural Vocation Education). We are a non-profit that helps veterans, transitioning service members and members of the general public transition into careers in agribusiness. Ironically, I first became interested in grant writing when I helped CASA’s grant writer Kristen Stephen secure $250,000 in grants for CASA from Yahoo.


-What do you do in your free time?

I am a history buff and spend many weekends exploring historical places. I’m also a big college sports fan and attend games at Kansas State University. The rest of my free time is spent reading, and volunteering at community events.


-Please describe your experience with CASA:

I have been involved with CASA since 1996 and was an active CASA for 12 years. During that time, I advocated for seven different CASA kids ages ten to 17. I became an Educational Surrogate to have a stronger voice in IEP meetings. I was privileged to work with CASA’s CEO Reagan Phillips on a case before she became CEO.

Over the years, I have spoken at CASA training classes, staffed CASA booths at community events, and served as CASA’s newsletter editor. I am happy that I was able to continue writing the CASA’s on the Go column when I moved to Kansas.


-Are you in touch with any of the youth you advocated for?

 I did stayed in touch with a few CASA kids for a while when my term ended but I am not in touch with any of them now. I always left that decision up to them. By now they are all grown up and have their own lives. I often think of them and wonder how they are doing.


-Do you have any advice or a favorite moment from when you were a CASA in OC?

Being a CASA can be tough at times. My advice would be to hang in there and never give up. I found that it was often the little things that I did that meant the most to my CASA kids. This included things like playing catch, or chess with them, or letting them pick where we went to eat.

I found that earning their trust was the biggest key to my being able to help them. Once I did that, they would open up to me. They also listened to my advice. They didn’t always follow it, but they would at least consider it because of that trust.


Thank you Colin for your 23 years of service to the CASA agency and youth in Orange County!







Advocate Spotlight - Ellie Karimi

This month we shine our spotlight on Advocate Ellie Karimi!

Ellie Karimi

As a child, Ellie Karimi felt she did not have a voice and that having an advocate to be her voice was very challenging due to her culture and upbringing in Iran. She admits that as a teenager, she had a pessimistic view of life until she had an epiphany which made her realize that she was her own advocate with the ability to help others find their voice. Ellie says that she stopped focusing on herself and became a person who could help others.  As an adult, she began looking for various opportunities to be a voice for others. That’s when she encountered CASA of Orange County for the first time. Ellie says that she was blown away by its mission.  At the same time, she was a bit scared thinking that perhaps she would not be able to connect with the children, nonetheless, she decided to keep looking into it. She vividly remembers hearing at the information session that this volunteer opportunity was not a short term commitment with instant gratification.  She knew that if she were to be successful, she would need to be patient and deliberate, not pushy or hasty in the process of developing a relationship with the child.

Armed with courage and excitement to fulfill her purpose of being a voice for others, Ellie did her first file read. The file presented *Ricky, her first CASA child, in an unflattering way. In contrast, Ellie remembers being delighted when she finally met Ricky in person. He was a sweet and energetic eight-year-old boy. Ellie and *Ricky quickly made a connection at the initial visit when he grabbed her hand and invited her to jump on the backyard trampoline. Guided by her philosophy to patiently and deliberately find moments to connect, she let him to lead the way in cultivating their relationship. She would ask him to teach her things. In turn, she would compliment him for his skills and efforts.  This meant that Ellie was fully engaged in their conversations and activities. Ellie says that Ricky “absorbed” her compliments which helped him grow in self-confidence. Ellie’s style of finding strengths to build upon also worked with *Ana, her second CASA child who had speech and language challenges.  Ellie would tell Ana how brave she was for trying this or that until “brave” became part of Ana’s vocabulary. The best part of all this is that Ana began to see herself as a brave person. Because Ellie firmly believes that children are always listening and absorbing information, she would tell Ana stories about brave individuals who were able to overcome obstacles. Ellie says that the trick is to pay attention to what the children are doing and saying so that one can find their strengths to build them up. That is exactly what Ellie is striving to do as she begins to connect with her third CASA child, a sweet 9 year old with significant mental health and medical needs.

Ellie knows that besides connecting with the child, she also needs to collaborate with others in the child’s team, including parents and professionals. During difficult moments, Ellie has been able to maintain a calm, compassionate, and collaborative attitude which has allowed her to build bridges. Whether working with a guarded parent, a reluctant caregiver, or staff from a group home, Ellie also tries to practice authenticity and collaboration. She says that she tries not to take things personally, but stays curious, practices self-talk, and educates herself.

Spending time with the kids and seeing their smiles are some of Ellie’s favorite aspects of being a CASA. Ellie also knows that each case also comes with its own set of challenges, but that is also part of being a CASA.

Ellie believes that being a CASA, a voice for others, has helped her grow in her personal life. She says that there is personal growth that happens when she takes the time to put her own problems in the right perspective. Ellie’s advice to her fellow CASAs is to be patient and consistent and to believe that children are open to receive genuine love and affection, even if their expression sometimes does not show it. Ellie also wants to remind us that what she first heard at the info session six years ago, remains true: immediate gratification is not a realistic expectation. In closing, Ellie appreciates the support and guidance her case supervisor, Karyn Quick, has provided over the years, especially the times when she just needs a “shoulder to cry on.”

Ellie’s Case Supervisor, Karyn Quick, shares this about her:

"Ellie has been a CASA for six years this month, happy anniversary. She has worked on three cases, each one being quite unique. Her current case has been difficult as her little girl has a lot of special needs we were not aware of. Ellie has approached this case with compassion, empathy, and love. Even with this difficult case, she can find the positives with all the frustrations of this case. I’ve had the great pleasure working with Ellie for six years. CASA is very lucky to have her."

*Name changed to protect confidentiality.

Olivela x CASA

Love fashion with purpose? You’ll love Olivela - the style destination that gives back

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It's beauty week at Olivela: Spend $250+ on your favorite beauty brands including Christian Louboutin, Oribe, Maison Francis Kurkdjian, Molton Brown and more and you'll get a FREE beauty bag. Plus, 20% of proceeds directly support CASA OC.

How does it work? Olivela has over 250+ of the world’s best designer brands including Givenchy, Pucci, and Valentino as well as beauty brands including Oribe, Molton Brown and Goop (plus, shipping and returns are free).

When you shop, 20% of proceeds from every purchase will directly support CASA-OC's mission of providing advocacy and mentorship for youth in Orange County's child welfare system. 

Heading to Aspen or Nantucket this fall? Make sure to check out Olivela's boutiques, where the same generous giveback applies (just make sure to tell a store associate you want your proceeds to go towards CASA-OC). 

Send your friends the link and their purchases will help too!

With gratitude, 


CASA Rocks 2019

**********MEDIA ALERT**********

Todd Vande Hei, Jenny Gross, Ted Nark, Elyse Walker, Michael Wong, Mark Kerslake, Tom Chou




WHO: Presented by InFocus Foundation, elysewalker hosts second annual ‘CASA ROCKS’ party to benefit Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Orange County.

WHAT: Over 350 guests attended the party, which was held on Saturday, September 21st, inside elysewalker’s Newport Beach store at Lido Marina Village.  In addition to the attendees, many of whom were decked out in leopard attire (the dress code listed on the invitation), a leopard print Aston Martin was parked out in front of the store.

The second annual party, featured Nobu style sushi and sashimi, specialty cocktails, and a live performance by premier Los Angeles acoustic rock duo Crimson Crowbar featuring acclaimed musicians, Frank Simes & David Shelton. In addition, guests customized Madeworn Apparel and a live artist sketched on Golden Goose sneakers. Elysewalker donated 10% of all proceeds generated during the event to CASA OC.

This year’s live auction featured work by New York-based contemporary artist, Robert Mars, a New York Fashion Week experience, and VIP Lido Marina Village Package which included gift cards and products from many of the shops and restaurants located at the harbor-side center.

The event, which raised over $315,000, was supported by donations from Jenny and Jeff Gross and the InFocus Foundation, a private, family managed, nonprofit philanthropic entity established to enable communities and nonprofits to advance the circumstances and quality of life for present and future generations, as well as Aston Martin, LA Golf Partners, Chipotle, Lido House Newport Beach, Lido Marina Village, Nobu Newport Beach, Optivest Wealth Management, Kate and Peter Carlton, Erica and

Evan Fisher, Mindy and Jon Gray, Lisa and Dan Kassel, and Lippman Family Foundation.

Premiere sponsor PXG Apparel, founded by Bob Parsons (Go Daddy) and his wife, PXG Apparel President, Renee Parsons, displayed their new Fall/Winter 2019 collection of edgy, luxury, fashion-forward golf apparel for men and women, meant to be worn both on and off the course, at the event.

WHEN: Saturday, September 21, 2019

WHERE: elysewalker + towne by elysewalker, Newport Beach

3444 Via Lido I Newport Beach, CA 92663

Download photos HERE: (photo credit: Capture Imaging)



Alexandra Lippin

#310.230.8882 ext 32


Jenny Gross, Lisa Kassel, Elyse Walker


About elysewalker Newport Beach:

Situated in a historic bank building in Lido Marina Village, the 12,000 square foot store features beautifully curated designer shop-in-shops including Walker’s new casual concept store for men and women, towne by elysewalker.  From couture to contemporary, spectacular fine vintage jewelry housed in the bank vault, denim bar, and beach shop, offering one of the most premiere, unique and exciting shopping concepts in the country.  As the fashion director and face of FORWARD by Elyse Walker (, Elyse brings her keen eye, buying expertise, eclectic personal style, and access to the world’s most-coveted designers to Forward’s international clientele.  Serious about the business of fashion without ever taking fashion itself too seriously, elysewalker at Lido Marina Village offers a carefully curated selection of designers and a team of stylists to help each customer put it all together.

About InFocus Foundation:

InFocus Foundation, a private, family managed, nonprofit philanthropic entity was established to enable communities and nonprofits to advance the circumstances and quality of life for present and future generations.

About Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA):

Court Appointed Special Advocates of Orange County is a privately-funded non-profit organization that serves severely abused, neglected and abandoned children through the recruitment, training and continued support of volunteers who advocate and mentor these children, representing their best interest in the courtroom and other settings. Founded in 1985, with major support from the Junior League of Orange County, we serve annually approximately 700 of the children who move through our court system as a direct cause of abuse and neglect. We are able to serve these children through the generous support of those who donate to CASA as well as the immeasurable compassion and commitment of our CASA advocates.  At CASA of Orange County, our mantra is I am for the Child. Learn more about the ways to give to CASA as a means to help us support and protect the rights of our county’s valued children and to give them the nurturing and stability that they deserve. Please visit to learn more.      

Advocate Spotlight - Lisa Phi

This month we shine our spotlight on Advocate Lisa Phi!

Lisa Phi

Advocate Lisa Phi was surprised when she was matched to a teen boy. Her preference had been for younger children, but she thought back to training and about all the boys who don’t get to be matched with males because we just don’t have enough male CASAs. She knew it was going to be a challenge, and even wondered if it had been a mismatch. She thought to herself, “I just have to do my best.” When she met Travis,* he was 14 and living in a group home. He was nonchalant with a tough exterior. When she asked him if he knew what a CASA was, he said, “Yeah, you’re someone that buys me stuff and takes me out to have fun.” From that moment, Lisa began laying some boundaries, explaining her role as his advocate and his mentor.  Travis took it in, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t try to push those boundaries. He would say things like, “I need a lego set to help with my ADD.” He was very sharp, and even though he hadn’t been in the system for very long, he had quickly figured out how things work. Lisa could also see that Travis knew exactly who he was and what he wanted. “If he wants to do something he will do it, and if he doesn’t, there is no way you can convince him otherwise.” Lisa knew she would have to work with this mindset if she was going to make a difference in his life. There would be no pushing him to do things or developing plans for him; she would need his buy-in.

Collaboration has been the secret ingredient in Lisa’s relationship with Travis. From the start, it was evident that Travis wanted to feel like an equal, to have a say in anything they did together, to be asked for his input. Outings were always decided together and started with Lisa asking, “What do you want to do today?” And yet she always had a back-up plan ready, depending on what was going on in Travis’ life at the moment, and what state of mind he was in.  “Their needs are different each and every time you see them.” Living in a group home, Travis was not immune to behavioral issues, fights, awols, and general defiance. He didn’t like being told what to do and when to do it, and that created major problems for him. For Travis, that feeling of collaboration he felt with Lisa allowed him to open up to her and talk about these issues on their outings. It gave him a safe place to process some of his anger and other feelings. Lisa also knew that if she could put him in situations he felt comfortable in, it would make him want to open up. Travis loved restaurants and food, so sometimes they would have a special outing to Red Robin. While eating his burger topped with mushrooms, Travis began talking to Lisa about his childhood. He told her all about growing mushrooms with his family to make money when he was younger. The mushrooms he was eating were a connection to his past, and had he not been in that environment where he felt comfortable, doing something he enjoyed, he may not have taken the risk to open up and let Lisa in.

Lisa is a pro at building connections, not just with her youth but with his entire team. “Know all the people around [your child] and how they’re involved so you get the bigger picture of how to help your child.” She has strategically developed relationships with everyone on his team. Whichever group home he’s placed in, Lisa makes sure to know every staff member and introduce herself so that they also know who she is. She wants them to know that she is Travis’ person. Staff have been known to call her, just to let her know that Travis is having a bad day and could use her support. She makes sure to have conversations with them before picking him up and after dropping him is he he getting along with everyone? The staff share with her, giving her a better understanding of what’s currently happening with Travis, and what kind of mindset he might be in. Then on outings, she might slowly open the door: “I heard there was an incident last you want to talk about it?” Sometimes he does, and sometimes he doesn’t. When he does, she gets an opportunity to talk to him about how he handled the situation, and other ways he could next time. She also develops relationships with psychologists, psychiatrists, placement workers, and anyone else on the team. “The more people you know in his life, the fuller picture you get.” And she has learned that you get the best information out of the people your youth connects with the most. Group home staff have said, “He does really well with [his psychiatrist],” which leads Lisa to ask Travis about his conversations with his psychiatrist. One conversation at a time, Lisa has become the expert on Travis.

Over the last two years of working with him, Lisa has seen a whole new Travis develop. He has become more independent, and more calm. He has developed more self-awareness and understanding of what he can do to succeed. He has learned to open up more and talk through his emotions instead of going straight to being aggressive or violent. And yet, she and Travis still have days where she feels like he has shut a door and closed himself off, and she can’t see the difference she is making. It’s at that point she reminds herself, and wants other CASAs to remember, to step back and look at the big picture. Being there and providing consistency is what matters. That’s the difference you’re making. She was reminded of this early on in their relationship. She had told Travis she would see him every two weeks in her role as his CASA. Several months into their relationship, she came to pick him up and was greeted with, “It’s been a while since you’ve been here!” She was puzzled and checked her calendar later, noticing that instead of 14 days since their last visit, it had been 16 days! Her word and her consistency mattered to Travis two years ago just as much as they do today.

Lisa’s Case Supervisor, Erik Jones, shares this about her:

“During my time working with Lisa, I have found her to be a fierce and dedicated advocate and educational rights holder for her youth. She has been there throughout Travis’ struggles and moves throughout Southern California, arranging meetings with school representatives to ensure that he had everything he needed to thrive in school, and planning fun activities to give him the time he needs to be a kid. As an advocate, she helped Travis mature into a responsible and driven young man who dreams of one day going to college and having an apartment of his own. She is a very hard worker and has been a pleasure to work with since she became a CASA.”

*Name changed to protect confidentiality.

July 2019 Training Class

Congratulations to our 29 newly sworn-in CASA volunteers who finished their CASA training in the month of July. We are incredibly proud to welcome this new group into our CASA family and we congratulate you all on your accomplishment of becoming an official advocate for youth in the OC foster care system!

CASA-OC x Olivela

Love fashion with purpose? You’ll love Olivela - the style destination that gives back

We are thrilled to announce a new partnership with Olivela, a luxury shopping and socially-impactful retail platform that will allow you to further your support for CASA - OC in the most fashionable way possible. 

How does it work? Olivela has over 250+ of the world’s best designer brands including Givenchy, Pucci, and Valentino as well as beauty brands including Oribe, Molton Brown and Goop (plus, shipping and returns are free).

When you shop, 20% of proceeds from every purchase will directly support CASA-OC's mission of providing advocacy and mentorship for youth in Orange County's child welfare system. 

Heading to Aspen or Nantucket this fall? Make sure to check out Olivela's boutiques, where the same generous giveback applies (just make sure to tell a store associate you want your proceeds to go towards CASA-OC). 

Send your friends the link and their purchases will help too!

With gratitude, 


Advocate Spotlight - Robyn Stannard

This month we shine our spotlight on Advocate Robyn Stannard!

“She awoled for about five weeks. Normally when she does that, she will call me or text me. But she unfriended me [on social media], wouldn’t return my calls...I was feeling like, ‘I’m done.’ Finally she comes back and I go see her at her aunts. I tell her, ‘I was really concerned about you. Did something happen? Did I do something that made you want to pull away?’ [But it wasn’t about me.] She said, ‘I didn’t want to talk to anyone, and you fell in that world.’”

When Robyn first met Erica two years ago, she was 14 and living in a group home. She was shy at first, but was eager to receive a CASA. She could see that, for the other girls living in the group home, CASA outings were their ticket to freedom and fun for a few hours. Robyn was astute enough to recognize that Erica wasn’t particularly talkative or eager to open up,  but if Robyn could get her involved in tasks she enjoyed, she opened up without realizing it. “She didn’t know she was sharing because she was doing something else.” When Robyn first met Erica with her Case Supervisor, she was able to find out that Erica liked reading and art. So their first official outing was to Barnes and Noble, and this quickly became a regular trip for them. They would choose an area of the store that Erica enjoyed browsing, and would eventually end up enjoying a treat in the coffee shop there. Robyn noticed she would get little opportunities here and there to ask Erica questions, to gauge how she was doing and how things were going in her placement, to assess Erica’s needs. These questions were sprinkled throughout a visit, and not asked all at once like an interview. Without Erica realizing it, Robyn was gathering information that enabled her to effectively advocate for Erica.  Going to the movies is also a favorite outing for Erica. While seeing a movie together isn’t exactly the best opportunity for conversation, Robyn is intentional about using the time in the car with Erica.  She hands her phone over to Erica so Erica can open up the Spotify playlists that they’ve been building for two years. At this point, like clockwork, Erica will start chatting about some random thing, and Robyn will be able to turn that into real conversation.  But Robyn doesn’t have magic CASA powers, and sometimes when she picks up Erica, she gets an, “I don’t want to do anything.” Those are the times when Erica is having a tough day, and Robyn simply has to meet her where she’s at. That’s when she scraps her plans and suggests, “Ok let’s go have a Starbucks and sit in the car and listen to music.”

By far, the most challenging aspect of Erica’s case is all the placement changes. Erica goes through stable periods, and then something will set her off, and she’ll go awol for days or weeks. Perhaps other CASAs can relate to Robyn’s lament, that Erica’s reactions to her triggers seem far bigger than the trigger itself. Robyn theorizes that once Erica feels she has “messed up,” she gets discouraged and doesn’t try to correct it easily. Once she is awol for a day, she likely figures she may as well stay gone for a while because she is already in trouble. All of this placement instability has far-reaching effects in Erica’s life. Things will be going great at a new placement and a new school for a few months, then wham, something will set her off and she goes awol for two weeks. By the time she’s back, she’s lost her placement and has to start over in a new school. She’s lost whatever progress she made at the previous school and the relationships she had started developing there. Now she needs to get used to a new placement, with new people and new rules, get re-enrolled at a new school with another mark on her record, not to mention deal with the trauma of what she may have experienced while she was awol. While she doesn’t share details with Robyn, she does hint at it. This roller coaster, especially now that Robyn holds educational rights and is intimately involved with the whirlwind of school personnel coming in and out of Erica’s life, is the hardest thing that Robyn deals with. Erica recognizes the importance of education and how it can open up opportunities for her, but the day to day consistency is really challenging for her. Robyn sees growth in Erica’s self awareness; it’s just the daily execution that’s difficult. But she is encouraged to hear Erica refer to drama in the group home, and say, “I want to fight back and say things but I know that’s not going to help me, so I won’t.” She sees proof that Erica is maturing, and that their conversations are helping Erica make better choices about who she wants to be and how she wants to react to things in her life.

While guiding Erica in how to react to challenges is part of Robyn’s job as her CASA, she is also constantly checking her own reactions to challenges. After all, being a CASA is not easy. “There’s a time commitment in being a CASA, but it’s really an emotional investment. The first couple of months was really difficult for me. You want to fix it and make it better, and you have to learn how to manage that.”  Robyn goes on to explain that when you are assigned your first case, you start getting exposed to your child and the issues you learned about in training, and you feel like, “I got this!” But as the relationship develops and your emotional investment increases, the role becomes more challenging because it’s your child, not a hypothetical scenario from training. As CASAs we sometimes want to throw money or more of our time at a problem, but our role limits us, and that can be hard to accept. When Robyn feels discouraged, or like she’s not making the impact she had hoped to, she reminds herself that her consistency and just showing up are what’s most important. And every once in a while, she gets a reminder from Erica. Someone at a meeting or a placement will say to Erica, “What about your CASA?” and Erica’s response will be, “Oh yeah, she’s not going anywhere!”

Robyn has become a constant in Erica’s life, and as such, Erica has developed some new CASA lingo. They have a standing joke they share. They might be listening to rap music in the car that Erica enjoys, and if the content becomes inappropriate, Robyn will jokingly say, “I don’t think that was CASA-approved!”  And the song will quickly be changed. Erica has taken the joke and made it her own. When she’s talking to Robyn and lets some profanity slip out, she will say, “I’m sorry, that wasn’t CASA-approved.”  Or she will start telling Robyn a story and stop herself, then slowly say, “Wait, this might not be CASA-approved…” Even though there is humor in it, the positive effects of Robyn as a mentor are visible. Erica is learning some healthy societal boundaries, and Robyn is teaching her how to be her best self.

Robyn’s Case Supervisor, Jeanette Arriaga, shares this about Robyn:

“I consider myself very lucky to be able to work with Robyn! Robyn has shown herself to be extremely committed and always makes sure to attend all meetings and stay informed of everything going on with her case, so she is able to advocate for Erica. Even after Erica goes awol for several weeks, Robyn stays committed and is there for her when she returns. After every difficult situation, she always makes sure to just show up to support Erica. Recently, Erica asked Robyn if she would hold her educational rights. That speaks volumes about Erica’s connection with Robyn and her trust that Robyn will be there for her consistently. Thank you, Robyn, for being such a pleasure to work with and for your commitment to Erica!”

*Name changed to protect confidentiality.

CASA ROCKS - Media Alert




Evening to Feature Nobu Style Sushi and Sashimi, Specialty Cocktails, Live Performance by Crimson Crowbar, Live Auction, Customizable Ready to Wear for Men and Women by Madeworn and Personalized Sneakers for Men and Women by Golden Goose featuring a live artist.

WHO:            elysewalker Newport Beach, Nobu Newport Beach, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Orange County, InFocus Foundation

WHAT:          elysewalker, in partnership with Nobu Newport Beach,hosts the second annual “CASA ROCKS” to benefit Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Orange County, presented by the InFocus Foundation.  The evening will feature 2 Nobu sushi and sashimi bars, signature bites, and Nobu Style cocktails as well as the opportunity to dance and sing along to premier Los Angeles acoustic rock duo,Crimson Crowbar featuring acclaimed musicians, Frank Simes & David Shelton.Attendees will also have the opportunity to customize their own Madeworn tee or jacket and Golden Goose sneakers featuring a live artist.  10% of all proceeds generated during the event will be donated to CASA OC.

WHERE:     elysewalker Newport Beach

3444 Via Lido

Newport Beach, CA 92663

WHEN:         Saturday, September 21st, 7:00pm-LATE

WHY:            Philanthropy is incredibly important to Elyse Walker.  After losing her mother to stage four ovarian cancer at the young age of 42, Elyse founded the Pink Party to benefit the Women’s Cancer Research Program at Cedars-Sinai.  The annual event took place over 10 years and brought in over 11.5 million dollars, with celebrities such as Jennifer Garner,Anne Hathaway, Jessica Biel, Leslie Mann, Kate Beckinsale, lending their name to the cause.

Since opening her second elysewalker store in 2016, located in Newport Beach’s Lido Marina Village, Elyse has been impressed with the difference CASA was making in their mission to serve neglected youth in the greater Orange County area. It was the perfect philanthropic partnership and so CASA ROCKS was born.  The first annual CASA ROCKS event took place on Wednesday, December 5, 2018, was attended by over 225 guests, and raised over $120,000 for CASA.



About elysewalker Newport Beach:

Situatedin a historic bank building in Lido Marina Village, the 12,000 square foot store features beautifully curated designer shop-in-shops including Walker’s new casual concept store for men and women, towne by elysewalker.  From couture to contemporary, spectacular fine vintage jewelry housed in the bank vault, denim bar, and beach shop,offering one of the most premiere, unique and exciting shopping concepts in the country.  As the fashion director and face of FORWARD by Elyse Walker (, Elyse brings her keen eye, buying expertise, eclectic personal style, and access to the world’s most-coveted designers to Forward’s international clientele. Serious about the business of fashion without ever taking fashion itself too seriously, elysewalker at Lido Marina Village offers a carefully curated selection of designers and a team of stylists to help each customer put it alltogether.

About Nobu Newport Beach:

Nobu Newport Beach is located within the luxe Lido Marina Village, providing the ultimate Nobu Style experience in the heart of the Orange County coast. With more than 16,000 square feet of stunning two-story waterfront space, including outdoor covered patio dining, an expansive bar& lounge, and the exclusive Grand Cordon Bar, Nobu Newport Beach provides the ideal setting to enjoy the inventive cuisine and exquisite service that Nobu is known for worldwide.

About Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA):

Court Appointed Special Advocates of Orange County is a privately-funded non-profit organization that serves severely abused, neglected and abandoned children through the recruitment, training and continued support of volunteers who advocate and mentor these children, representing their best interest in the courtroom and other settings. Founded in 1985, with major support from the Junior League of Orange County, we serve annually approximately 700 of the children who move through our court system as a direct cause of abuse and neglect. We are able to serve these children through the generous support of those who donate to CASA as well as the immeasurable compassion and commitment of our CASA advocates.  At CASA of Orange County, our mantra is I am for the Child. Learn more about the ways to give to CASA as a means to help us support and protect the rights of our county’s valued children and to give them the nurturing and stability that they deserve.Please visit to learn more.                

# # #

Advocate Spotlight - Julie Grable

This month we shine our spotlight on Advocate Julie Grable!

“This whole experience has given me as much as I’ve put in. It’s changed the way I think about a lot of things, and bettered my life.” Advocate Julie Grable has been a CASA for just over a year, and recently celebrated her one-year anniversary with her CASA youth, 8-year-old Alexis.* “I may have been known to be a little judgy-judgy at points in my life,” she jokes. “It’s taught me to be less judgmental. For example, when I go into her home, it’s not necessarily how my home is or is structured. But she is loved. It’s not the way I would do it, but it’s working.” Julie’s open-mindedness makes us proud, but we understand that adjusting our lens is easier said than done sometimes. But Julie falls back on what she learned in training and encourages others to do the same. “Trust your training.  [CASA does] an amazing job. Trust what you have learned and refer back to it. I have my little notebook and I look back at it.”

When Julie set out to meet Alexis for the first time about a year ago, she didn’t know what to expect. As a new CASA, this was her first child assignment, and her first initial visit with a youth. “I don’t know that I’ve ever been more nervous for anything in my entire life than when I went to meet her. I was so scared; what if she doesn’t like me, what if I can’t communicate because of the language barrier. I was so nervous.” It didn’t help that Alexis’ aunt had her arms folded across her chest and a look on her face that said, “Who are you, and why are you here?” Julie’s Case Supervisor explained to Alexis’ aunt in Spanish what Julie’s role was, and that she was here as a volunteer. With the influx of people in and out of their lives, that seemed to be a concept that was difficult for her aunt to accept.  Her next question was, “How much do you get paid?” Again, Julie’s Case Supervisor explained that Julie makes no money and is here because she wants to be. It was at that point that Julie saw the aunt’s face soften.  Her next question was a little less pointed: “How long are you going to be around?” Julie’s answer: “However long you want me to be.” Three seconds after that, all of Julie’s nervousness faded away. It was at that point that Alexis peeked out from around a corner, with a smile that lit up the room. She ushered Julie to her room, gave her stickers, chatted with her, and asked for help with her homework. That’s when Julie breathed a sigh of relief and said to herself, “I can do this.”

Julie’s relationship with Alexis has been easy to form. Alexis is talkative, open to connection, and is just a happy kid. In many respects, how Alexis presents doesn’t match up with the history that Julie read about in her case file. Having suffered the loss of her mother, and having been sexually abused by her father, Alexis has been through more in her few years than most of us will have to endure in a lifetime. But you wouldn’t know it if you met her. A happy-go-lucky little girl, she doesn’t cry nor does she dwell on negative emotions or serious subjects.  Her therapy services were discontinued when her therapist reported there wasn’t a need to justify services. After attending a meeting at Social Services with Julie, Alexis announced, “That was fun!” It’s hard for Julie to ascertain if Alexis understands all that is going on in her life. Does she understand what these meetings are about? Does she know why there is court? Does she know why she was attending therapy? Does she know why Julie is in her life? This has been tricky territory for Julie to navigate.  On one hand, she wants to leave well-enough alone, and not push Alexis into talking about anything that she isn’t comfortable with. On the other hand, she wants Alexis to understand that she has an Advocate in Julie. That Julie is here to help ensure that Alexis’ needs are being met, and that it’s ok to have needs, and to not be happy all the time.  Alexis may not be ready to face some of what she has experienced, but she did lean on Julie for advocacy when she needed it. Facing pressure to attend monitored visitation with her father, Alexis told Julie, “I don’t want to see him,” but then went on to explain that she was scared for her baby brother to go to visitation without her. Although she may not want to discuss it, she knows that her father is not safe, and felt protective of her brother. She told Julie that if it would keep her brother safe, she would go. Julie’s heart melted at the sweet naivety and sacrifice Alexis displayed. She assured Alexis that her brother would be safe even if she didn’t go, and that it was not her role to keep him safe. She told Alexis that if she wanted to see her father, it was ok to feel that way, and if she didn’t want to see him, it was ok to feel that way too. This interaction gave Alexis the strength to find her voice, and communicate her wish to her therapist to not have visitation with her father. Sometimes teaching our kids to do their own advocacy is the biggest gift we can give them.

Julie comes with other gifts for Alexis. The first is her sheer presence. While Alexis is very loved at home among her relatives, Julie estimates that there are about twenty people living there. When Alexis is with Julie, it’s literally the only time that she’s one-on-one with anyone. It’s the only time she gets someone’s full attention, and that communicates to her that she is valuable. Julie recognizes the weight of this. Sometimes when Julie is with Alexis, her phone will ring, and Alexis will ask her if she is going to answer it. Julie’s answer is always the same, “No, I’m here for you.”  Another gift that Julie shares with Alexis is an extremely unique idea. Many Advocates will create lists with their youth of outing ideas, but Julie has added a fun twist to this. She and Alexis share a book titled, “Our book of ideas, plans, and fun together.” This book is kept in the back seat of her car, always within arms reach of Alexis and with a pen near it. The pages are used to document outing ideas, to chronicle outings that they’ve been on, and even to write notes to each other. When Julie took Alexis to the Aquarium, time was spent by Alexis drawing all the creatures they had seen in the book. When Julie first met Alexis, she let her know there would be rules, such as Julie would always need to be able to see Alexis on outings. Alexis took it a step further and suggested they create a contract in their book, then drew signature lines for both of them to sign on. When they go on outings, Alexis enjoys writing about their outing in the book, and always makes sure to date it.  She’ll ask Julie, “What’s the date?” and then scribble it into her book, importantly. And perhaps the most special aspect of this book is the exchanging of notes. Julie will write notes in the book for Alexis to find when Julie is driving. And Alexis will write notes back to her, for Julie to find after she has dropped her off. Notes like this recent one: “I love you Julie.”

Julie’s supervisor, Yariza Amaton, shares this about Julie:

“From the very beginning Julie has shown dedication to her CASA role and to her little one. Julie has been present at every court hearing and at every meeting to make sure that she can fully support Alexis and that she truly understands the ins and outs of her case. She always has great questions and wants to do whatever is within her role to make sure that Alexis’ needs are being met. Julie has a great sense of humor and truly understands her CASA role, but when in doubt she reaches out to me to ask questions and to makes sure she is performing at her best. Thank you, Julie, for being so dedicated to our organization and to Alexis!”

*Name changed to protect confidentiality.

May 2019 Training Class

Thank you to Judge Erdosi who helped CASA-OC swear-in 24 new advocates who recently completed their 30 hours of training in the month of May and will be matched up with children on our wait list over the next few weeks. We are incredibly humbled to have all of these amazing community volunteers join our team in helping the most vulnerable children in our society. Bravo for yo

Advocate Spotlight - Barbara Prince

This month we shine our spotlight on Advocate Barbara Prince!

“Sometimes I think they make me better.” Barbara Prince, CASA of three years, refers to the two boys she’s been assigned to during that time. “I think I’ve been given an opportunity to see how different these kids are; what these kids have gone through to get to where they are today. I’ve learned a lot about them, and I’ve learned a lot about me.”

Barbara’s first child assignment, Cody,* was eleven when she first met him in the fall of 2016. On their first visit, Cody was very quiet and didn't talk to her. She had learned from CASA training to expect this, but still knew she needed to do something differently in order to engage him. At the end of their visit, they made a plan for their second visit: pumpkin carving. When the day of their second visit finally arrived, Barbara was prepared. She came stocked with pumpkins, carving utensils, and all the other goodies needed to have some fun carving pumpkins. She saw Cody come out of his shell a bit. She noticed that, as they each sat next to each other, working with their hands on a project together, Cody felt more at ease to talk. He connected with her more and seemed to enjoy himself! After that second visit, the rest of their visits went smoothly, with him always looking forward to seeing her. While they would enjoy outings together like seeing a movie, or going miniature golfing, Barbara’s real focus was on craft projects. She has learned that this is the way to get her youth to talk with her and engage. Even though many of us may not think of doing crafts with a young boy, Barbara has found some creative ideas that work! From making Mother’s Day cards, to painting Easter eggs, to decorating Easter cookies, she has found that both her boys have enjoyed these activities. Perhaps the most creative idea involved a calendar and some fruit! Barbara shared with Cody a calendar she had, that showed a different animal for each month, carved out of food! That prompted a trip to the grocery store, shopping for the right fruits and vegetables, and then carving them into animals just like the calendar. Cody loved the activity, and loved the time he spent with Barbara, talking and crafting - it was a win-win.

Distance of a different kind, not emotional but proximity, was one of Barbara’s biggest challenges with Cody. When she accepted his case, he was placed in Los Angeles county with a relative. While Barbara didn’t love the idea of driving to LA, she figured that making that drive is something not many CASAs can commit to, and with her being retired, she wanted to be the one that could. Cody’s placement went back and forth from Orange County to LA a few times, and each time she followed him. For those of us reading this and thinking that Barbara is a saint to commit to an LA case, let’s just up the ante a bit. Because of a busy family schedule, Cody’s caregiver restricted Barbara’s visits to a certain day and time of the week: Friday afternoons. Sometimes Barbara would spend two to three times the amount of time getting there and coming home from visits, as the time she would actually spend with him on a visit. At first she figured all the driving wouldn’t be a big deal since she was retired. But it was a big deal. An exhausting and frustrating big deal that took away from the time she could spend with Cody. Another challenge she faced was of a more serious nature. Cody had a congenital AV shunt, which is an abnormal connection between an artery and a vein, which is something like having a vein that doesn’t mature. Cody had seizures, was on medication, and had probably about five different brain surgeries. The most recent of his surgeries was during the time Barbara was assigned to him. Cody’s surgery was performed at the hospital that Barbara actually retired from, so she was given some special privileges to be in the pre-op area with him, and in recovery, and also to visit him every day. She marveled at how brave he was throughout the entire process. She saw a maturity in him that was unusual for his age. He’d had so many surgeries that this was just another one. Being able to be there for him during this time was one of Barbara’s most special contributions to Cody. He was obviously wowed by all the people that knew her and would come and say hello to her, and then stick around to talk with him. Being able to be there every day for him in an environment she was so familiar with, and to make his experience a little more cheerful, meant the world to her.

Barbara has also looked for other ways to leave a lasting impact on her boys. During each outing, she would take pictures of their activity. Pictures to document all their mini-adventures and all the things her boys were trying for the first time. “What I’ve learned is that one thing the kids don’t have is pictures.”  Imagine a childhood not punctuated by photos containing memories of where you’d been, what you tried, and what you looked like as each year went by? Barbara saw the gap this left, and the importance of her boys having their very own pictures to document their childhood experiences. So she made sure to take photos each time, and then she took those photos and put together a scrapbook. The book was kept in her car and one thing she noticed each time either of her boys got in the car, is that they would pull out the book, open it, and look at all the pictures. This became a ritual. They didn’t talk much; they just opened the book, started at the beginning, and flipped through page by page of pictures and memories. For most of our kids, there is not a lot in their lives that they can count on. There often isn’t concrete evidence of the joy and goodness in their lives. What Barbara created for them is a reminder, that she’s there to share in these experiences with them; that they really had these moments of happiness and they are documented forever for them to remember, and perhaps a glimpse of what others see when looking at them: A sweet and joyful young boy.

Barbara’s supervisor, Kari Becker, shares this about Barbara:

"It's been an absolute pleasure working alongside Barbara! I have witnessed the growth and development of her and her youth's CASA relationship via a memory scrapbook that Barbara has made for him. It is so neat and special to see all the fun things they do together. As we know, children in the foster care system come from very disruptive homes, and their memories are just that; but what Barbara has done for her youth highlights the importance of a CASA. A special person who creates new and positive memories in the midst of a very dark system. And I am sure her youth will forever remember her and the impact she has had on his life."

*Name changed to protect confidentiality.

An Eye Opening Experience

An Eye-Opening Experience

By Garin Friedman

           Entering my sophomore year of high school, I began my involvement with CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates). CASA assigns kids in the foster care system an"advocate" to be there and fight for the well-being of foster children as well as help them with anything a parent would similarly help their children. When I learned about this organization, I was a little hesitant to become involved. I was worried about how I would handle the incredibly sad stories of what these kids go through and align that with how fortunate I am. But I am involved in an impactful way, and it was one of the best decisions of my life.

           Casting aside my hesitation, I started a club at my school called "Kids For CASA" to help the CASA organization spread awareness, raise money, help set up for events, and allocate funds. By doing this, it will help allow CASA to support and promote court-appointed advocates for abused or neglected children to provide children with a safe and healthy environment in permanent homes.Without a safe environment, how could one even have the ability to succeed in life? Having to worry about basic needs is not the job of a child, but without parents, they have no choice. I want to help give them that choice, that choice I had growing up. An equal opportunity everyone deserves.

           To help, Kids For CASA sold backpacks for 75 dollars at CASA's annual GALA in Orange County,California. The backpacks were stuffed with school supplies and a Target gift card that would be passed out to kids in the CASA system. Realizing the dread and annoyance I gave my mom having to go to the store and pick up school supplies, made me think these kids would kill to be able to go with their mom to Target and pick out the supplies they wanted. Upon presenting the backpacks to the members of the CASA organization, explaining what was in each, and where the money raised would go, they went flying off the shelves. We reached our goal of selling all 300 backpacks and raised 22,500 dollars. We did it for two years totaling 45,000 dollars in donations.

Another inspiring event was the Pinwheel Project. CASA displayed 3,100 pinwheels on a grass field, 500 red, 250 white, and 2,350 blue representing the number of kids in the foster care system. A red pinwheel represented the children CASA serves, white represented the number of kids on our wait list, and blue represented all of the other children in the Orange County Foster Care System. We stood around the pinwheels, and as people walked by, we helped spread awareness of what it all meant. After explaining to them about the pinwheel and seeing different peoples reactions, it made me think of what this means. I concluded that there are so many kids, living in the same community as me, that don't have the support and guidance that parents give. As high school came to a close, I didn't want to stop there. CASA has impacted my life way too much to stop after graduation.

           When I arrived at Indiana University, I felt freedom for a while, but then once I had to start doing my laundry, get my food, clean up my room, and not have anyone to bring me soup when I wasn't feeling well made me realize that kids in the foster care system have never had any of that. Realizing this accelerated the process of me starting Kids For CASA at IU. With the support of my fraternity and friends, I launched Kids For CASA and got an incredible backing. In about a week, I had over 100 kids join compared to the 30 I had in high school. The Monroe County CASA welcomed me with open arms.

           The first event Kids For CASA helped at was CASA's dine and donate at a local pizza shop called Aver's. When I went to Aver's Pizza, it was outside of the IU part of the city.It was apart of the real Bloomington community. I walked in with 13 of my friends, and right away, a kind lady comes up to us and asks, "please say you're with CASA." That support showed me that the community truly cares about CASA also, I have the backing from not only my classmates and friends but the community as a whole.

           The last experience I am going to touch on brought everything, in reality, the CASA Luncheon. I have never heard a full speech from an advocate, and never even seen a CASA child, but at this luncheon, I got to listen to both tell their stories. Hearing them talk put a true perspective on life in general. It gave me the chills. Here was a person around the same age as I stand up in front of a crowd of over a hundred people and share a story of her life. A story that entailed details no human should ever encounter. She touched on the impact of what CASA has done for her, which made me realize all this time and energy I have put into this organization the past four years is for the right cause.

           Kids for CASA changed my values and perspective on life. Instead of having the value of leadership, I have switched to compassionate leadership. There are two different types of leaders, those that think only one way with a firm set of unbreakable rules, and there are leaders who see and try to understand the other side. CASA has moved me to that other side, the right side. Also, it has shown me that not everyone is born with equal opportunity. I am fortunate to be allowed to join this extraordinary organization, one that has humbled me, made me more responsible, and well-rounded. It has helped me see life outside of my hometown bubble and explore and give back. I have a much greater appreciation for all the little things I get to experience with my family and friends, such as safety, encouragement, support, and love. All these things, everyone should be able to attain. Now let us continue to make this city, this community, and this world a place where everyone gets the opportunity to become who they wan tto become.

CASA Celebration Black & White Ball Nets Over 1.3 Million

Event Co-Chairs (from left to right): Bobbie Howe, Lourdes Nark, Dana Chou, Urvashi Patel, Barclay Butera, Nancy Eaton, Wendy Tenebaum and Dana Strader



Matthew Wadlinger

Chief Communications Officer

(714) 619-5149

CASA Celebration of Children Black & White Ball
Nets Over $1.3 Million With “Organically Grown” Themed Gala!

Santa Ana, Calif. (May 1, 2019) – Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Orange County, held their annual Celebration of Children Black & White Ball, on Saturday, April 27, 2019, at the Hotel Irvine in Irvine, CA. 405 guests were in attendance to support CASA’s mission of serving abused, abandoned, and neglected children in Orange County with a trained and supported volunteer advocate. This year’s Gala had a net of over $1,300,000 and serves as the fifth year in a row that CASA has exceeded in breaking the previous year’s net and becoming the organization’s highest netting fundraiser in their 34 year history. This beautiful and elegant evening was executed by eight longtime CASA supporters who served as this year’s Chairs: Barclay Butera, Dana Chou, Nancy Eaton, Bobbie Howe, Lourdes Nark, Urvashi Patel, Dana Strader and Wendy Tenebaum. Evening festivities were themed “Growing Organically” and guests arrived to a transformed reception area at Hotel Irvine for a cocktail reception featuring a silent auction with 106 silent auction items including 16 “Chef Table” experiences to bid on.

Guests were welcomed into a ballroom that was beautifully transformed by the team at Elite OC Productions. Mark Sanchez, former NFL and USC Quarterback, and CASA-OC supporter, served as this year’s Masters of Ceremonies and helped to provide a lighthearted balance for the evening’s program. Regan Phillips, CASA CEO, offered sobering remarks on the critical importance of CASA’s work for youth in the foster care system – citing that “one in eight American children has suffered a confirmed case of neglect or abuse by age 18”, “there are more than 400,000 children in the foster care in the United States – over 70,000 of which are in California” and that “the total economic impact incurred by the California community for the lifetime costs associated with 71,289 substantiated victims of child maltreatment in 2017 was $19.31 billion”.

Chairman of CASA’s Governing Board of Directors, Ted Nark, presented the Tarsadia Foundation with the award for Foundation of the Year that was accepted by the family foundation’s patriarch, B.U. Patel. Michael Wong, Strategic Planning Chair on CASA’s Board of Directors, presented Twila True Fine Jewelry and Watches with the award for Outstanding Corporation that was accepted by Twila True. Mark Kerslake, Vice Chair on CASA’s Governing Board of Directors, presented Jeff and Jenny Gross on behalf of The William, Jeff and Jennifer Gross Family Foundation with the award for this year’s Children’s Champions for their commitment and support of CASA’s organization and mission (Jenny Gross is a current member of CASA’s Governing Board of Directors).

In the highlight of the evening’s events, CASA volunteer, Cathy Miner and her CASA kiddo and current foster youth, Ruben, presented the award for Advocate of the Year to La Mirada resident, Michelle Oliveira, for her outstanding work as a CASA volunteer since 2014. Michelle, a self-described “Tiger Mom” to four boys – aged 24, 19, 16, and 14, shared a gut-wrenching story of being matched with her current CASA kiddo that she mentors and advocates on behalf of, “My heart sank as I read about the night Frank entered the system and was transported to Orangewood. He had been living with his Dad, his Mom was unfit to care for him. At nine years old, Frank found his father dead in bed after passing away in his sleep. Throughout the night Frank had stayed by his Dads side, cleaning him and wiping his face. Eventually, someone was alerted and called 911 but it was too late. Once the police realized there was nobody to come be with Frank, a social worker was called to their home. She asked Frank if he understood what had happened to his Dad. Frank reported to her that “dead means when your soul leaves your body and goes to heaven. I know my Dad is not dead because I did not see his soul go to heaven””.

Auctioneer, Zack Krone, and Masters of Ceremonies, Mark Sanchez, revved up the crowd for the annual Fund the Mission which hauled in over $670,000 with donations from the guests ranging from $100,000 to $500. The live auction included a Dream Vacation Home Experience at the Villa Verai in Phuket, Thailand, donated by Twila True, which fetched a $37,500 donation. One lucky $15,000 bidder was able to choose from one of four jewelry pieces offered by Twila True, a Diamond Sponsor and exclusive Jewelry Sponsor for this year’s gala. Following the live auction guests headed to the dance floor to continue the party and celebrate the evening’s success with a concert performance by The Side Deal, an Orange County based band comprised of members of Sugar Ray and Train. Mark Sanchez joined the band for their first song, playing his guitar to the Sugar Ray classic, “Every Morning”.

About Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA)

Court Appointed Special Advocates of Orange County is a privately-funded non-profit organization that serves severely abused, neglected and abandoned children through the recruitment, training and continued support of volunteers who advocate and mentor these children, representing their best interest in the courtroom and other settings. Founded in 1985, with major support from the Junior League of Orange County, we serve annually approximately 700 of the children who move through our court system as a direct cause of abuse and neglect. We are able to serve these children through the generous support of those who donate to CASA as well as the immeasurable compassion and commitment of our CASA advocates. At CASA of Orange County, our mantra is I am for the Child. Learn more about the ways to give to CASA as a means to help us support and protect the rights of our county’s valued children and to give them the nurturing and stability that they deserve. Please visit to learn more.

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March 2019 Training Class

Congratulations to our 32 new CASA volunteers that were sworn-in by Judge Keough last week after successful completion of their 30 hours of CASA training in the month of March. We are honored to have you all on our team and congratulate you for taking on this very important role for our foster youth in Orange County!

January 2019 Training Class

Congratulations to our recently sworn-in 29 new Court Appointed Special Advocates who completed their 30 hours of training in the month of January! We are so excited to have you on our team and we thank you for your commitment to our organization and community!

2019 Friends of CASA Holiday Luncheon Chair Announcement

CASA of Orange County is thrilled to make the public announcement of our three chairs for the Friends of CASA Holiday Luncheon happening on Wednesday, December 11th, at the Monarch Beach Resort in Dana Point -- Sandi Marino, Debbie Masek, and Jennifer Gonzales Oxen.

Learn more about Sandi Marino, Debbie Masek, and Jennifer Gonzales Oxen below:

Sandi Marino’s years of volunteerism for Orange County non-profits began when she was a member of the PFO board at her children’s elementary school where she was inspired to take on the role of leading community outreach initiatives. These experiences gave her a first-hand view of children living on the streets and living in foster care, which sparked her desire to enhance her philanthropic efforts, specifically her involvement with an organization in which her contributions would help to improve the lives of others, especially children. It was at this time that she was introduced to CASA.

Sandi has been a volunteer for the Friends of CASA Holiday Luncheon (FOCASA) for over 12 years, and has served as a chairperson on many committees, specifically as Chair for Entertainment for the last five years. Sandi is the Community Outreach Director on the FOCASA Executive Board of Directors which spearheads all volunteer opportunities for the seventy plus members of the auxiliary group.

Sandi is currently completing her degree in interior design at the Interior Design institute in Newport Beach. She recently launched her own interior design company and is already busy designing home interiors in Newport Beach and Corona Del Mar. Prior to being a stay-at-home mother for her two children, Sophia (17) and Enzo (14), she spent several years in corporate America, specializing in sales and marketing at various Fortune 500 companies. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree at Arizona State University in Communications and Broadcast Journalism, where she was also a member of Kappa Alpha Theta sorority.

Sandi is originally from Scottsdale, Arizona where her extended family still resides, and has been a resident of Newport Beach for over 25 years. She loves to spend her time with her children and friends, and enjoys cooking, traveling, hiking, skiing, and playing tennis.


Debbie Masek has a long history of non-profit experience and philanthropic volunteer work in Orange County dating back to 2002. She volunteered with The Junior League of Orange County from 2002 to 2016 and was heavily involved in their biggest fundraiser, The Christmas Company, where she held various Executive positions. Debbie has also taken leadership roles on her son’s PTA Board.

Most recently, Debbie has pursued her passion for helping children through her volunteer work with Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Orange County. CASA is a local nonprofit that recruits, trains and supervises community volunteers working one-on-one with a youth in the foster care system. Debbie currently serves on the Friends of CASA (FOCASA) Board as Communications Director where she is responsible for overseeing the monthly FOCASA newsletter as well as keeping the FOCASA Board and all FOCASA members apprised of information pertaining to the CASA organization.

Debbie also most recently served as Public Relations Committee Chair for the 2018 Friends of CASA Holiday Luncheon.  In the past, Debbie has served on various Committees for the FOCASA Holiday Luncheon including the Silent Auction, Operations, and Starfish Wishes. She continues to support her community as a 2017-2018 PTSA Board Member for El Rancho Charter School.

Debbie resides in Orange with her husband of 16 years, Joe, and their son, Chase, age 13. She spends her free time enjoying outdoor activities, traveling, and experiencing local restaurants with friends and family.


Jennifer Gonzales Oxen has been involved with the Friends of CASA Holiday Luncheon for the past several years. Although fairly new to the Holiday Luncheon, Jennifer has been an active volunteer in the Orange County community since moving to Orange County from Texas. Jennifer began volunteering with the Junior League of Orange County in 2007 and was actively involved in the organizations largest fundraiser, The Christmas Company, for many years. She continues to serve as a Junior League Sustaining Member. Because Jennifer is passionate about supporting causes tied to our local youth, she is particularly dedicated to supporting the CASA mission.

Jennifer graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications from the University of Texas at Austin and relocated to California to begin her career in employee benefit solutions. She serves as a sales consultant for Warner Pacific Insurance Services, offering expertise in medical and ancillary insurance needs, as well as employee benefit technology solutions.

Outside of professional and volunteer commitments, Jennifer enjoys time with friends and family, distance running, and travel. Jennifer and her husband, Randy, reside in Fullerton with their young son Jake.

Linda Zamora - New Chair of CASA Diversity Committee



Matthew Wadlinger

Chief Communications Officer



Santa Ana, Calif. (February 19, 2019) – Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Orange County is pleased to announce the appointment of Linda Zamora as the new Chair to the Diversity Committee auxiliary group. The CASA Diversity Committee was formerly known as the Hispanic Advisory Council, and changed its name to the Diversity Committee in January of 2018. The Diversity Committee supports CASA’s mission by actively spreading community awareness in order to grow a diverse pool of volunteers – with the primary goal of recruiting and retaining advocates that mirror the demographics of the children CASA serves. CASA currently has 486 community volunteers who have taken 30 hours of mandated training provided by the organization and have taken sworn oaths of confidentiality to officially become Court Appointed Special Advocates. Currently, the two areas of primary focus for the Diversity Committee are increasing the number of prospective individuals who identify as Hispanic/Latino(which account for 13% of the volunteers CASA has and 60% of the children served) and male individuals (which account for 19% of the volunteers CASA has and 49% of the children served).

The Diversity Committee is comprised of engaged community members who assist in the efforts of finding unique avenues to assist in the volunteer recruitment efforts of the CASA organization. CASA is honored to have Linda Zamora at the helm of the Diversity Committee. Linda has been an active member of this group since 2015. “I am looking forward to leading the CASA Diversity Committee as we develop both short-term and long-term strategies to help us meet our goals of recruiting more volunteers to work one-on-one with a child in the foster care system. The work that CASA does is critical to ensuring these vulnerable youth have a chance at a normal childhood and breaking the cycle of abuse and neglect that has been in many of their families for generations.. Knowing that CASA currently has a wait list of over 250 youth who need a CASA volunteer to mentor them and advocate on their behalf in an overburdened and underfunded system is the reason that I am passionate about this organization and leading the Diversity Committee”, said Zamora.

Linda Zamora has lived in Garden Grove since 2002. She was born in Ventura and grew up in Mexico. She moved back to the USA as a teenager.  Linda earned a Bachelor’s degree in Spanish Literature & Culture and a minor in Latino Health Administration from California State University Long Beach. After CSULB, she attended interpreting school and obtained her state certification as a court interpreter. Linda started her own interpreting and translation business in 2011 providing services in most languages spoken in California.  Before becoming a business owner, she worked for Kaiser Permanente for close to 15 years in the Sales & Marketing department. She is an active Garden Grove community member. She served on the Garden Grove Planning Commission from 2013-2017, the Neighborhood Improvement Commission 2006-2010. She is now a board member of the Garden Grove Chamber of Commerce and Co-Chair its Government Affairs Committee. To add more meaning to her life, she loves spending time with her two dogs, reading, cooking, hiking, visiting museums and recently learning about Stoicism a philosophy that grounds her and brings her serenity.

About Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA)

Court Appointed Special Advocates of Orange County is a privately-funded non-profit organization that serves severely abused, neglected and abandoned children through the recruitment, training and continued support of volunteers who advocate and mentor these children, representing their best interest in the courtroom and other settings. Founded in 1985, with major support from the Junior League of Orange County, CASA serves approximately 700 of the children who move through the dependency court system due to being victims of abuse and neglect. We are able to serve these children through the generous support of those who donate to CASA as well as the immeasurable compassion and commitment of our CASA advocates. At CASA of Orange County, our mantra is I am for the Child. Learn more about the ways to give to CASA as a means to help us support and protect the rights of our county’s most vulnerable children and to give them the nurturing and stability that they deserve. Please visit to learn more.                                                

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Learn more about the CASA Diversity Committee

Luminous Smiles

CASA of Orange County is incredibly proud to present our new partnership with Luminous Smiles of Newport Beach. Dr. Desai has graciously offered the services at her dentistry for youth in the foster care system and that are matched up with a CASA volunteer. Lizbeth, who is a non-minor dependent, was the first youth in our program to benefit from this extremely kind and generous offer. Her confidence has been lifted through the amazing work that Luminous Smiles has provided by fixing Lizbeth's smile through a dental restoration. We thank Dr. Desai and the entire team at Luminous Smiles for their commitment to helping others in our own community.

2017-2018 Annual Report

CASA of Orange County is proud to show off our Annual Report for the fiscal year of October 1st, 2017 through September 30th, 2018!

Check out the brand new annual report at this link:

December Swear-In Ceremony

Congratulations to our newly sworn-in 31 Court Appointed Special Advocates. Thank you to our friend, Judge Arthur, who was able to come into the CASA offices on December 18th, 2018, to oversee the well attended swear-in ceremony for these special new volunteers!

2018 Friends of CASA Holiday Luncheon



Matthew Wadlinger

Chief Communications Officer



Santa Ana, Calif. (December 19, 2018) – Friends of CASA, a fundraising auxiliary of Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), hosted its 2018 Holiday Luncheon on Thursday, December 13, at The Monarch Beach Resort in Dana Point. The Luncheon and Fashion Show that began as a Holiday Tea is in its 23nd year of existence and has brought in over 4 million dollars since 1995. This year’s Luncheon had a record breaking net for the fifth year in a row – with more than $452,000 that will go directly to supporting CASA’s mission of recruiting, training, and supervising community volunteers who mentor and advocate for children in the foster care system.

The Luncheon was chaired by Melissa Rohani and Michelle Fisher, who were assisted by a team of over 85 members from the Friends of CASA (FOCASA) auxiliary group, which is led by the newly appointed FOCASA President, Lori Jackson. Five hundred and thirty guests filled the halls and decks outside of the ballroom to bid on 200 auction packages during the champagne reception. Guests were able to fulfill a foster child’s wish through ornaments placed on the “Starfish Wish Trees”, featuring 202 different wishes from the children in the CASA program which included items like dance classes, summer camp and a laptop computer for a college bound young adult. For the second year in a row the trees were sponsored and beautifully decorated by Barclay Butera Interiors.

The ballroom at the Monarch Beach Resort was beautifully decorated and styled by Elite OC Productions. Tory Burch created an immersive experience, down to the Tory Burch designed table cloths and napkins. This year’s fashion presentation by Tory Burch and South Coast Plaza featured Celebrity Fashion Stylist, Brad Goreski, on stage to help present the collections. Tory Burch showed 20 beautiful looks from the Resort 2019 collection, as well as the Spring/Summer 2019 Tory Sport collection.

This year’s keynote speaker was the 2017-2018 Miss Outstanding Teen Arizona, Dimon Sanders. Dimon shared her story of entering the foster care system in June of 2009 due to abuse by her biological father and neglect by her biological mother. “Over the course of my 5 years in the foster care system, I had 2 attorneys, 5 behavioral health specialists, 5 therapists, 5 case managers, attended 5 schools and lived in 13 different foster care placements. That’s a total of 35 people who came in and out of my life. My source of consistency was person number 36, my CASA”. Ms. Sanders proudly shared with the crowd that she was adopted out of the foster care system with the help of her Court Appointed Special Advocate and has since graduated college.

An opportunity drawing donated by Lugano Diamonds was a Diamond Bangle featuring 3.69cts Round Brilliant Collection VS Diamonds set in 18K White Gold which values for $20,000, was won by CASA Board of Directors Member, Susan Leibel.

Diamond Starfish Sponsors for this event include the Official Jewelry Sponsor, Lugano Diamonds, and Shiva Ommi. Ruby Starfish Sponsors are Michelle and David Fisher as well as Melissa and Parsa Rohani.

Friends of CASA are committed to raising funds for CASA of Orange County’s mentor-advocate program for abused and neglected children in the foster care system.  Through the annual Holiday Luncheon, the Friends of CASA raise awareness of the CASA program, recruiting volunteers and long-term donors to CASA. This year’s Executive Committee of the Holiday Luncheon was comprised by the following Friends of CASA members: Kimberly DeLamar Matties, Jennifer Gonzales Oxen, Jennifer Hanlon, Debra Klein-Sanner, Lori Jackson, Joanna James, Molly Jolly, Patty Juarez, Mei Li, Sandi Marino, Debbie Masek, Colleen Masterson, Sarah Minakary, Stefanie Stamires, Janine Wald and Marjie Zethraus.

About Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA)

Court Appointed Special Advocates of Orange County is a privately-funded non-profit organization that serves severely abused, neglected and abandoned children through the recruitment, training and continued support of volunteers who advocate and mentor these children, representing their best interest in the courtroom and other settings. Founded in 1985, with major support from the Junior League of Orange County, CASA serves approximately 700 of the children who move through the dependency court system due to being victims of abuse and neglect. We are able to serve these children through the generous support of those who donate to CASA as well as the immeasurable compassion and commitment of our CASA advocates. At CASA of Orange County, our mantra is I am for the Child. Learn more about the ways to give to CASA as a means to help us support and protect the rights of our county’s most volunerable children and to give them the nurturing and stability that they deserve. Please visit to learn more.

CASA Rocks at elysewalker

Regan Phillips, Elyse Walker, lisa Kassel

Dana Chou, Bobbie Howe, Lourdes Nark, Urvashi Patel, Wendy Tenebaum, Nancy Eaton, Dana Strader

CASA Rocks at elysewalker - Media Alert

Find more information

180 with Worm

Thank you to Paul Porter from Elev8 Industries for helping to coordinate this great video featuring CASA-OC.

Garth "Worm" Wyckoff put the spotlight on CASA-OC through an interview on his show "180 with Worm" with CASA-OC Chief Communications Officer, Matthew Wadlinger.

Check out his Instagram page at @lagunaworm to see more!

Learn more about Elev8 Industries by heading to

Custom Comfort Mattress

CASA of Orange County is pleased to announce our partnership with Custom Comfort Mattress. This amazingly generous and philanthropic company has donated two mattresses - along with a base spring, pillows, and sheets, to two foster youth in our program. One of these kiddos had been sleeping on the floor at her home and the other had grown so much over the last year that he no longer fit on the bed at his foster parent's home. We are incredibly grateful to have community partners like Custom Comfort Mattress that are willing to give back to this vulnerable population of youth in the foster care system. Learn more about their company at

September 2018 Training Class

Congratulations to our newly sworn-in group of 36 Court Appointed Special Advocates who recently completed their 30 hours of training during the September 2018 Training Session. We are so unbelievably proud of these new volunteers and excited for them to begin work on their first child assignment!

CASA Carnival | Kappa Alpha Theta | Chapman University

CASA of Orange County would like to highlight and give thanks to our amazing community partners at Kappa Alpha Theta from Chapman University for the amazing success that they had at their CASA Carnival Fundraiser. These young women were able to plan, organize and execute their own fundraiser and raised an astonishing $18,000 for CASA-OC!

July 2018 CASA Training Class

CASA-OC is proud to show off our 20 newly sworn-in Court Appointed Special Advocates that finished their 30 hours of training in July and got sworn-in on August 28th!

John's Picnic

Over 100 volunteers came together to help organize, prepare, and give back to children in the OC foster care system at the annual CASA Back to School Picnic, now referred to as "John's Picnic".

Special shout out and recognition to volunteers from Laguna Woods led by Jeanne-Nicole Beyers & Myrna Shannon who helped organize a fundraising effort to cover the costs of the backpacks and supplies. Kid volunteers from the Lion's Heart-Teen Volunteers and Leaders from Mission Viejo were on hand to help out the team at Laguna Woods Village in stuffing all of the backpacks and loading them onto the u-haul to bring to the park.

The picnic itself was held at The Mile Square Regional Park and attended by over 150 matches (150+ CASA kiddos and 150+ CASA volunteers) who had a blast thanks to the volunteers and organization of folks from the John Engstrom Foundation.

Kids were able to play games and activities at the park that was supported by additional volunteers from the Pacific Life FoundationEnlightened Heart Spiritual CenterOrange County Bar Association, Hyundai Capital America, and others. A special luau dance performance got the kids and advocates in the festive mood as their summer comes to an end and a new school year approaches on the horizon.

The picnic lunch this year was generously donated and catered by In-N-Out Burger, who supplied their famous truck that showed up and delivered tons of burgers, chips and drinks for everyone. Attendees were also treated to drinks courtesy of Maggie Loves Beans!

CASA of Orange County - Court Appointed Special Advocates is incredibly thankful to everyone who helped make this event so successful.

Photographs taken by Richard Becker

May 2018 Training Class

CASA is so proud of our 24 recently sworn-in advocates who just finished up with their 30 hours of training to become Court Appointed Special Advocates. On Tuesday evening Judge Arthur was able come to the CASA offices and make it all official in front of 90 guests in attendance.

Fashion Island Experience

CASA of Orange County would like to thank Fashion Island in Newport Beach for hosting a special day for three outstanding youth in the foster care system.

Three young women (two of which just graduated high school and one who recently finished her first year of college) and their CASA volunteers got to have a fantastic experience at Fashion Island. The day started with receiving a beautiful tote bag, and then continued on to Drybar, where all 6 women got their hair blown out and styled. Following that first experience, Happy Nails & Spa graciously gave beautiful manicures and pedicures.

Lunch came courtesy of Bloomingdale's 59th & Lex patio, where the ladies got to sit outside and enjoy a beautiful meal. After lunch the three young women got to end their trip with a mini shopping spree at Forever 21 and Urban Outfitters. 

CASA is so appreciative to Fashion Island for creating this opportunity for these amazing young adults in our program and their three CASA volunteers. We would like to give a special thank you and shout out to Melissa Robles, Courtney Toney and Veronica Salgado Rico - for coordinating the special details that made this such a memorable experience.

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CASA Appreciation Day

Regan Phillips (CASA-OC CEO), Lily Colby (California CASA Policy & Program Coordinator), Andy Jacobson (CASA Case Supervisor), Jaynine Warner (CASA Board Member & former Friends of CASA President), Pat Cahill (longest serving CASA-OC volunteer - over 22 years!)

May 14th is officially CASA Appreciation Day! CASA of Orange County was fortunate enough to spearhead a joint effort with California State Senator, Josh Newman. Newman introduced SCR 131 on the senate floor that declares May 14th as CASA Appreciation Day in the state of California. Senator Newman and his wife Darcy Lewis are both former CASA volunteers from Orange County and have been major supporters of our organization. CASA was lucky enough to send some of our team up to the Capitol Building in Sacramento for this special recognition ceremony -- Regan Phillips (CASA-OC CEO), Andy Jacobson (CASA Case Supervisor), Pat Cahill (longest serving CASA-OC volunteer - over 22 years!), Lily Colby (California CASA Policy & Program Coordinator), Jaynine Warner (CASA Board Member & former Friends of CASA President).

More information and a video of Senator Newman on the floor for the recognition ceremony can be found at:

March 2018 Training Class

Please join us in welcoming our 18 newly trained Court Appointed Special Advocates who will be joining our team of amazing volunteers who mentor and advocate for children in the OC Foster Care system! You can also check out a little video that chronicles their training session of 30 hours that took place in March!

CASA Pinwheel Project Success!

More information can be found at

Pinwheel Project

January 2018 Training Class

CASA is so proud of our amazing new 11 volunteer advocates who are getting to work on their new case assignments! Check out this little video that chronicles their training classes!


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