Late in the year 2016, Ella and Malcolm received a postcard from Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) for Children of Atlantic and Cape May Counties. This small piece of mail, which easily could have become junk mail, has changed their lives.
When Ella first received that postcard, she had never even heard of CASA. She showed it to Malcolm, who immediately thought CASA sounded like a very worthwhile organization. They were in complete agreement about the importance of standing up for the abused and neglected children in their communities. They liked the idea of being the voice for those children living in foster care who can go unheard. A woman of action, Ella registered them both for an Information Session.
By January 2017, they joined another 20 individuals in a training class to become CASA advocates. This diverse group shared one common goal: To become the eyes and ears of the family court judge for children living in foster care.
Married over 46 years, it was natural for them to team up and become CASA advocates together. “We found a volunteer opportunity that had meaning to us and one that we could do together. It was our intention to work as a team for these kids,” Ella shared.
The couple have always volunteered in their communities. Malcolm as a basketball coach, a Special Olympics board member and a career-trainer for the Opportunities Industrialization Center. Ella’s first volunteer experience was as for her local hospital when she was a high school student. After years of volunteer work for the American Cancer Society, Ella became their Lead Ambassador. They likely cannot remember a time when they were not involved in community service.
With three grown children of their own, they know the value of strong role models for raising children. Malcolm feels very strongly about the importance of male role models in a child’s life, and referred to one of his favorite Proverbs: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
Malcom and Ella knew how easy it would be for a child to fall through the cracks of the child welfare system and they were determined to do all that they could to keep this from happening. They committed themselves to the CASA training and at the end of 30 hours were sworn in as Volunteer Judiciaries by a family court judge. Like most CASA graduates, they were excited and anxious about their new roles as child advocates.
Their first case included six siblings, infant twins, a two-year-old girl, and a nine and a 12-year-old boy. “Working as a team with Ella has been great,” said Malcolm. Smiling he added, “I almost fired her once or twice.” They work well as a team and the children whom they advocate benefit from their shared viewpoints for what they believe are the best interest of the children.
The parents in their first case were eager to accept services that would help bring their family back together and gradually the family was reunified. “The kids were so excited,” Ella said. “In spite of what had happened, when you met those kids, you knew they were raised right…they were well-mannered, good kids.”
As experienced CASA advocates, they immediately accepted another case with three siblings placed with three foster families. They know that each situation is unique and that the children on this case may reunite with their parents, realize adoption or be cared for by a relative.
Whatever the outcome, Ella and Malcom will continue to share car rides to and from their child visits and keep in contact with all of the people in the children’s lives. They will discuss their findings and share opinions as they write their court reports and make recommendations that they believe will help each child succeed. They will come to know and truly care about each child, and through their generosity of time and spirit, will help make each child’s world a better place.
“When you have been blessed,” Malcolm said, “you have to bless others.”
Malcom and Ella are two of over 200 CASA Volunteers in Atlantic and Cape May Counties fighting for the rights of children living in foster care. CASA is central to fulfilling society’s most fundamental obligation by making sure a qualified, compassionate adult will fight for and protect a child’s right to be safe, to be treated with dignity and respect and to learn and grow in the safe embrace of a loving family. Take a stand against child abuse and join the CASA Movement today!