We can realize the dream of New Jersey’s foster children

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To the editor:

Angel Lopez had a dream.

It wasn’t the same dream that galvanized Dr. Martin Luther King’s movement 50 years ago this month. Not a dream of freedom. Not a dream that would change the course of a nation.

Still, Angel Lopez and Dr. King have much in common. Both dreamed of a day when life would be better, when they could experience the joys that so many other people took for granted.

Dr. King dreamed of brotherhood. Angel dreamed of a home.

Abused and neglected as a child, Angel lived in 14 different foster homes by the time he was 15. That’s not unusual; on average, foster children change homes at least three times in the first year alone.

Nearly failing in school, Angel was headed toward the same lifetime of struggle that thousands of other former foster children experience: much higher rates of school dropout, homelessness, mental health issues, unemployment and the same rate of post-traumatic stress as combat veterans.

Then Angel met Gordon Elkins, his Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer. Trained to represent abused and neglected children in court system, Gordon is a determined advocate for the needs of foster children.

After all the times Angel had been let down by adults in his life, it took a while for the teen to trust Gordon. But soon, Angel opened up and they developed a trusting relationship that helped Angel overcome many obstacles, even his poor performance in school.

With Gordon’s help, Angel improved his grades and graduated from high school this year. He starts college in the fall. He says, “Having Gordon’s support has taken me where I am today.”

While Angel never realized the dream of a loving, forever family, it remains the dream of the estimated 12,000 New Jersey children who live in foster care. Unfortunately, only a quarter of those foster children have a CASA volunteer like Gordon.

Dr. King inspired a nation to judge people not “by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” He set in motion policy changes, new laws and cultural shifts that set about ending discrimination as the law of the land.

With equal determination, our country can provide justice and hope to foster children. CASA volunteers can make their dreams come true.

Let’s vow as New Jerseyans to put a CASA volunteer, an advocate, a trusted adult and someone who believes in the rights of all foster children beside each and every abused and neglected child who needs one.

Paul Tendler
Somers Point

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