Rummaging through her backpack, Lea DeStefanis files through the familiar halls of Cumberland County College to her classroom. Images of internships canvass her mind, but none stick. Not until her professor utters the ten words that would soon change her life: Court Appointed Special Advocates of Cumberland, Gloucester, and Salem Counties.
While studying to become a social worker, Lea became a CASA volunteer in 2019 upon recommendation from her professor. Her relationship with CASA began simply to fulfill hours for an internship experience, but her love for our organization and the work we do kept her hanging around long after her hours had been met.
Lea has only been with CASA of CGS for less than two years now but has already led two foster youth to reunification. Her approach is simple: always try to be positive about the situation and make it fun for the child.
“That’s the most important part,” Lea stresses. “Just have a fun day with them. Give them time to process. Give them a safe environment and find something that they enjoy doing. Just let them be a kid for a little.”
For children who are victims of trauma, a safe space to unwind and enjoy themselves is often elusive but incredibly necessary for their well-being; it is something so simple yet so often overlooked and taken for granted by the general public. Lea ensures that her CASA children always have that space to de-stress and re-center when they are together, a practice that illustrates her commitment to brightening the lives of children in need--and the lives of everyone around her!
“When I think of Lea, I think of someone who is full of pure light, joy, giving, and pixie dust. She is pure magic and I am so grateful that she shares her light and magic with us at CASA,” says Salem County Advocate Coordinator Cara Zoppina. “She has been a light to the child she serves for a year now and has been with him every step of the way, leading us to his recent reunification with his father. She has brought sunshine to his cloudy days for sure. Lea is a wonderful human, CASA, and mother, and I enjoy working with her so much!”
Thinking back to her own childhood, Lea is inspired to be the stable figure for a child in need that she never had when she was younger. CASA gives her the opportunity to be a role model for a child in a difficult situation, and her unwavering support for her CASA children brings hope and light to our foster youth, our organization, and our community.
“I think what makes CASA so special is the people you work with,” says Lea. “Everyone is very supportive and caring. They are so nice and welcoming and are always reassuring and motivating you. The environment they create makes it so special. You want to do well for them because they treat you so well.”
Thank you Lea for everything you do for CASA! Your kindness and giving heart shines through everything you do. YOU are what makes CASA so special!