Updated: Sep 29, 2020
CASA of CGS’s Cumberland County Advocate Coordinator
Giver of “free mom hugs,” fur mom to seven, and never a morning person but always a people person.
With the shrill of goat chuckles dancing through the still summer air, Kari admires her backyard DIY projects and makes her way inside. Greeted by her husband, twin girls, baby boy, 3 cats, and 2 dogs, she spreads out on her desk and gets to work, changing the world from home.
Born and raised in Millville, Kari’s childhood vision was far from where she is today, but her inspiring story invites us to always persevere and believe in ourselves, because the unique paths each of us take will lead us to where we are meant to be.
After graduating high school with dreams of becoming a celebrity hair stylist, her plans were derailed when she got into a relationship at 18 that put her life goals on hold. With twin girls at the age of 22, Kari was a mom by day and a bartender by night. It was far from easy, but when she finally got divorced, she realized that she could move forward in the direction she wanted without feeling held back.
“I didn’t make good choices,” says Kari. “I made poor choices when I was 18 that led to situations I was in that affected my life for nearly a decade. I can see it now but I couldn’t then. But my experiences made me who I am. Life experience can give you a lot more than education sometimes. I wouldn’t be where I am had I not lived those experiences and I am grateful for that, and I hope I can use these experiences to help kids find a better path.”
After working as a Teacher’s Aide at the Cunningham Academy Transitional School in Vineland, Kari knew that she was meant to work with children, but she wanted to be able to do more to help them. So with the tremendous support of her family, she changed her life during her 30s and enrolled at Cumberland County College (now Rowan College of South Jersey) in a duel major program for social work and education.
Fast forward to now, where Kari is in a supportive marriage with her high school best friend, with three beautiful children and a place on the team at CASA of Cumberland, Gloucester, and Salem Counties (CGS).
Before transitioning into her position at CASA, Kari joined our family at Hopeloft--a house for diverse nonprofits and programs dedicated to solving serious social problems, and where CASA of CGS calls home. She started a little over half a year ago as the Program Coordinator for First Star—a college readiness program for foster youth housed at Hopeloft—working with students on action plans, facilitating Saturday Sessions, case managing, and helping them meet their education needs. Her work with First Star quickly led her to a position as the Coordinator of the Transitional Youth Initiative, a novel program at Hopeloft that aims to create positive pathways for youth aging out of the foster care system. As the Coordinator, she case managed; served as a liaison between different organizations; marketed the new program; offered resources and led presentations; and identified new youth to be introduced into the program.
Through her collaborations with the diverse organizations housed within Hopeloft as the Transitional Youth Coordinator, Kari naturally progressed into her current position this May as the Cumberland County Advocate Coordinator at CASA of CGS. In her new role, she oversees the volunteers in the county; recruits new volunteers; supports her volunteers and makes sure they are confident in what they are doing; supports the rest of her CASA team; volunteers on a case in Salem County; and helps develop new ideas and strategies to grow their network of advocates through fundraisers, community engagement, fun activities, and more. And although things have been drastically different within the organization due to the ongoing pandemic, Kari looks forward learning, connecting, and growing with such a supportive team rooting for her success.
“I can see that there are good people in the world doing good things by working at CASA and Hopeloft,” she says. “I love the idea that there are so many people in one place with good hearts and the drive to serve and help others."
Kari’s success story is one of resilience and commitment to chasing a dream, no matter what your past or your circumstances. Her thoughtfulness, instinctual and unfaltering willingness to help others, powerful work ethic, and tremendous heart provide a just glimpse into a personality that adds a priceless abundance of value to our team and creates a better world by impacting the lives of countless children in our community every day.