June 11, 2012
There are few things more memorable than a gift received as a child, be it a doll, a baseball — or a pair of new shoes.
A Gift in Time, developed by Leo, Carole, Douglas, and Matthew Rogers through the Rogers Family Fund at the Community Foundation of New Jersey (CFNJ), has strived to make this experience available to children in foster care across New Jersey. Every year, A Gift in Time receives requests for small items so important to a child — from art supplies, fishing poles, and swimming classes, to a bedroom mirror and a makeup kit — and every year it manages to fulfill these requests and connect these children with their wishes.
Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), a nonprofit network devoted to supporting children in child protective services, works together with A Gift in Time to fulfill these requests. CASA was founded in 1977 by a Seattle family judge who wanted “sensible information on how children were faring,” and in 1990 the passage of the Victim’s Child Abuse Act made CASA a national program. CASA assigns volunteers to children in foster care to ensure they do not become lost in the system, and to ensure that they return to permanency as soon as possible. These volunteers track a child’s progress and can approach a judge at any time on the child’s behalf.
CASA in NJ is responsible for overseeing the activity of the nearly 1,800 volunteer advocates in the state of New Jersey. CFNJ has helped CASA in NJ with other initiatives throughout the years, including CASA of NJ’s “Pack with Pride” project, a fundraiser that raised money to purchase duffel bags for children moving between foster facilities, to prevent them from being forced to pack all of their belongings into makeshift containers such as garbage bags.
Leo Rogers served on the board of CASA of NJ for seven years and, along with his wife Carole, wanted to be able to make a difference in the lives of New Jersey’s foster children. Carole Rogers attended a CFNJ presentation on the power and impact of small gifts and remembers thinking afterwards, “Maybe we could do that and apply it to CASA, so we could give small gifts where they really count.” A Gift in Time was born from this simple concept: requests for items up to $100 can be promptly filled through the program.
To ensure equality of treatment, CASA volunteers themselves are not permitted to give presents to the children they care for. However, requests for items are made through the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS), which may or may not have available funds for the request. When the request is denied and/or will not be received in a timely manner, CASA in NJ will receive it. A Gift in Time allows volunteers to identify items that the children need, which can be as simple as a phone card for calling siblings, or assistance for attending prom, and allows these requests to be responded to within 24 hours.
“Volunteers know what [the children] are missing and what they’re pining for,” notes Rita Gulden, Executive Director of CASA of NJ. Ms. Gulden is responsible for approving the requests for gifts and says that she has never denied a single one.