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CASA of Philadelphia
November 2016 News


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It’s been an exciting few months for me here at CASA. I’d like to thank the Board of Directors and the amazing dedicated staff and volunteers of CASA Philadelphia for welcoming me with open arms and helping me make a smooth transition to the Executive Director role. It’s truly been a pleasure getting to know everyone and seeing firsthand what goes on behind the scenes on a day to day basis to provide much needed advocacy for children and youth in foster and congregate care.

Reflecting back on my first 60 days, I am reminded that a lot can be done in a short time. We’ve had the opportunity to meet with Administrative Judge Murphy and Supervising Judge Olszewski from Family Court, we met with Luciana Terrell the director of the DHS Education Support Center and were able to present to and get feedback from CUA Case Management Directors. Our new Educational Decision Maker (EDM) program coordinator is pulling together a workgroup of key stakeholders in Philadelphia to partner with us on this much needed program. We have three Temple BSW interns who have jumped right in and are providing CASA services to children as well as working on some special projects.

The EDM program, with the generous support of the Impact100 grant, has begun doing stand- alone trainings for EDM volunteers, in partnership with the Education Law Center. The first training was held on September 8th with an enthusiastic group of 14 potential volunteers. We are just wrapping the fall pre-service training for CASA volunteers. Eighteen volunteers participated and will complete their court observation in early November and are on track to be able to take cases by the New Year. 

You may have heard CASA board members and volunteers were answering the phones in the early morning hours of Oct. 21st for the WHYY fund drive. CASA got several on air mentions and we did such a great job, we were told we were ready for TV next!

The 4th Annual CASA Superhero Run/Walk took place on October 30th. This year’s event was part of the Generosity Series Philly 5k.  Thank you so much to our individual donors and corporate sponsors.

CASA of Philadelphia is launching its Speaker Series on November 10th. The first talk will be given by Debra Schilling Wolfe, Ex. Director of The Field Center for Children’s Policy, Practice and Research. Please join us for this event.  We are pleased to announce the CLE credit will be available.

These are just some of the highlights! We’ve got more things planned, so stay tuned!

Happi Grillon, MSW
Executive Director


October 31, 2016

4th Annual Superhero Walk 2

On October 30th, staff, volunteers, board members, and all of our wonderful supporters came out to CASA’s 4th Annual 5K Run/Walk.  Special thanks to Generosity Philly for sponsoring this amazing event!  We loved being a part of such a great community.  And thank you so much to our individual donors and corporate sponsors Saul Ewing LLP, Buchanan Ingersoll Rooney PC, PECO, Conservest, Archer & Greiner PC, Schnader, Kurchner-Hawkins and Health Partners Plans.


By, CASA and EDM Volunteer Jessica Heckman

My seventeen year old CASA kid and I had a heated texting session last week. I get that she’s a teenager, but she’s also still a minor, and although she may think she knows everything, she doesn’t — wow, I sound like my parents. Little does she know that despite my talking to her mother more than her this past month, I’m still her biggest fan.


A little under four years ago, I received my first CASA case, involving three children, initiated by a revelation that the father of the youngest was involved in sexual relations with the oldest, who was twelve at the time. All of the kids were in different homes; all had their own disabilities and trauma. I went to meet them, visited them every few weeks, and talked to their biological mom, foster parents, group home facilitators, therapists, teachers, friends, case workers, and grandparents. I went to supervised visits where I watched them interact with each other, their mother, and their grandmother, and I witnessed simple disputes escalate to full blown drama.


The first time I testified in court, the mother abruptly disagreed with everything I said and chased after me outside afterwards only to curse me out and burst into tears as her world fell apart. I had to keep telling myself I that I was brave, patient, compassionate, and hopeful. I continued with my visits. I watched caseworker turnover. I had moments where I felt so frustrated with our placement system. I received calls telling me H, the oldest, was hit by a car. There were times when H would call me in the middle of an AWOL saying she was safe. I learned quickly who my good sources were. I learned that paperwork is painful to wait for especially when I am so desperate for my kids. Don’t they know how badly these kids need help?


Each time court was coming up, it seemed that something bad happened. Eventually the youngest was reunified. Then, the second oldest. But it was my teenage girl H who struggled. H is pretty, smart, and sensitive on the inside — and tough on the outside. H and I are fifteen years apart. H could call me on a Friday night angry and frustrated and then Saturday morning call all sweet like nothing happened the night before. Three years of foster homes, group homes, supervised visitation, unsupervised visitation, AWOLing, pregnancy tests, drug tests, and failing school to missing nearly seventy days of school in one year.  And now we were talking about closing her case. Her mom had worked hard completing her goals, and had even apologized to me for how she behaved when we first met. She now sees how committed I am to her family and has actually expressed gratitude. And H is actually doing pretty well. As I prepared my paperwork for court, I texted H and I expressed my sadness over our last conversation (the heated text conversation I mentioned earlier) and wanted to make sure she was okay. She then told me something that is so rare at CASA — “I’m sorry and I’m so grateful for you.” I reminded her that I was always there and I would always be there.


I testified in court today that H’s case was ready to be closed. She has been home since the spring and was taking responsibility with school and therapy. Things aren’t perfect, but watching her grow has been incredible. For me, CASA is personal. Our kids are robbed from their childhood and expected to recover and thrive. Our kids get taken from everything that they know, they watch caseworkers come and go, and while they look resilient on the outside, they hurt so deeply on the inside.


Two years ago I received my first Educational Decision Maker (EDM) case. Some of the issues with it I had already gone through with H. When I asked H for advice on my new case, she told me to “never give up no matter what.”  I struggled with H at times with the balance of being hard versus soft. I learned to let her make mistakes and support her regardless. We end all conversations with “make good choices” just as my parents did with me.


Being a CASA is not for everyone. I tell people it becomes part of you. It’s not set hours or a Monday to Friday “thing.” It’s hard to watch sometimes. It’s hard to do the right thing — like when you witness a threat or discover information that would be lethal to your kid, you don’t just sit there. It’s hard to be screamed at, have the phone hung up on you, and visit homes with mice and cockroaches running by your feet. You learn to listen. You hear a teacher rave about something in school, and you are filled with joy. You hear laughter and friendly family banter in the living room when all of the family is there and you are relieved. You hear a smiling voice through the phone when calling to check up after reunifying a family, and you are grateful. You then remember at those moments why H’s advice is so true. Never give up, no matter what.


Congratulations to CASA Volunteer Helen O’Neill whose CASA case recently closed successfully with an order of permanent legal custody (PLC.)

Congratulations to EDM Volunteer Lisa Dissinger whose EDM case recently closed. Her EDM youth is living with her maternal aunt who is now her legal guardian and educational decision-maker. |


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We are looking forward to our Winter CASA 2017 Pre-service Training.  If you or someone you know is interested in becoming a CASA volunteer, you can apply here:



CASA Speaker Series

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Philadelphia's child welfare system is the fourth largest in the United States.  But despite a greater need than most states, the city's resources are fewer. Debra Schilling Wolfe from the Field Center of Children's Policy, Practice & Research at The University of  Pennsylvania will discuss how children slip through the network;  Why children who age out of the system become vulnerable to poor outcomes, including sex trafficking and drug abuse; And why more Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA's) are needed. Q & A to follow talk.

Thursday November 10th

8:30 a.m. to 10:00 a.m

Saul Ewing LLP, 1500 Market St., 38th Floor, 


Continental Breakfast served

Suggested Donation $25.00

PA CLE credit is available; NJ CLE is pending

Register Here Now:

If you are a CASA Volunteer, you will also receive 1.5 hours of in-service training credits when you attend this training.


This year, CASA was awarded a grant from Impact100 Philadelphia to develop our Educational Decision Maker (EDM) program.  An EDM volunteer is an individual who has been screened and trained by CASA Philadelphia and appointed by the court to serve as the legal “parent” for children in out-of-home care who do not have anyone to make educational decisions on their behalf. 


We are pleased to offer our next EDM training on January 19, 2017, from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm.  This means that if you know someone who wants to train just to be an EDM, not a CASA volunteer, they can go to this one night of training, complete the required clearances, and be eligible to become and EDM volunteer only.  A background in education is preferred for this stand-alone training. 


Prospective EDM volunteers who have never trained with CASA must submit their application and complete an interview with staff before being accepted into the EDM training. 


If you have already completed your CASA training, you will have an opportunity to train to be an EDM later in the winter of 2017 at an EDM training designed for already-trained CASA volunteers and you do not need to resubmit an application or be interviewed again.

Contact Program Director Cynthia Mason at cynthia.mason@casaphiladelphia for more information. 



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Think of CASA Philadelphia when you are loading up your cart on Amazon!  Amazon Smile will donate to us each time you shop.

#StartWithaSmile at  and Amazon donates.

The mission of Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Philadelphia is to train and support community volunteers to advocate for the health, safety, stability and well-being of abused and neglected children.

Upcoming Events:

November 10, 2016
CASA Speaker Series

January 19, 2017
EDM Training

For more information about any of our events, please  contact Volunteer Coordinator Cindy Blum.




CASA of Philadelphia

Board of Directors

Maura McInerney, Esq.
 Education Law Center
Board President

Maureen Smith Lawrence, Esq.
Hangley, Aronchick, Segal, Pudlin & Schiller


Vice President

Danielle Petaja, Esq.

Saul Ewing, LLP

Board Secretary

Caroline Rosch
Reinvestment Fund
Board Treasurer

Tom Bonner


Christina Copeland
Conservest Capital Advisors, Inc.

Camille Fundora, Esq.
Berger & Montague, P.C.

Philip Hawkins

Kurchner-Hawkins Associates

Robert S. Hawkins, Esq.

Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney, PC

Eileen Horgan, Esq.

Women Against Abuse

Shamyune Jones,   Esq.

   Pennsylvania Convention Center

Denis J. Lawler, Esq.

Archer & Greiner, P.C.

Joseph Nuccio, CPA

TD Bank

Lynanne M. Schaeffer

Gaudenzia, Inc.


  Alan Sharavsky




Judith Silver, PhD

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia


Happi Grillon, MSW
Executive Director

Cynthia Mason, Esq.
Program Director

Trish Kinkle, MSW
Program Manager

Carole Cornelius, MSW
Senior CASA Supervisor

Carletta Chandler, BSW
CASA Supervisor

Terrill Carney, MA
EDM Supervisor

Andrea Jelin, MS
EDM Program Coordinator

Cindy Blum, EdM
Volunteer Coordinator

CASA of Philadelphia
Friends Center
1501 Cherry Street
Philadelphia, PA  19102

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