Few are quite as devoted to their cause as Court Appointed Special Advocates volunteer Connie Weidner.
The Galloway Township resident joined the Atlantic-Cape branch of CASA, a national organization which appoints volunteers to advocate on behalf of children in the foster care and welfare systems, in the early 2000s, quickly becoming one of its most reliable members.
In 2002, Weidner was given the case of three adolescent boys in foster care. Finding a permanent home for the boys would prove to be a struggle, but finding a vigorous, devoted advocate wasn't. Weidner stuck with the boys through 19 placements over more than 10 years, finally giving the case closure last fall when the youngest boy turned 21 and aged out of the system.
On Feb. 28, Weidner was the guest of honor at CASA's 2013 Volunteer Appreciation Party, largely because of her tenacity in advocating for the boys. CASA Program Manager Jennifer Valentine, who is close with Weidner, said she has been an asset to the organization in her more than a decade of service.
"She's a very giving person," Valentine said. "I can't say enough good things about Connie."
Weidner was a special education teacher and later managed a state developmental center for the handicapped before retiring in 1999 when her husband became ill. After he died later that year, and with her five children grown and out of the home, she decided to look into volunteering. In 2000 or 2001, Weidner recalls, she found a recruitment listing for CASA in a local weekly, taking it as a sign.
Her first case was that of a young boy who had to be taken from his mother, and after about a year, they were successfully reunited. The relatively quick and successful resolution of her first case gave Weidner hope that all would end this way, but as she would find in working with the three boys, foster life is no fairy tale.
Still, while Weidner was unable to find the boys a permanent placement, her simply being there for them when the only other constant in their lives was change made her valuable, Cape-Atlantic CASA director Angie Waters said.
"They're losing a lot, friends, security," Waters said. "To know someone who will follow them from one foster home to a group home to the next home, I think, really is that stable presence in their life - that will make a difference."
The boys, all in their early 20s, are now stable, have high school diplomas, jobs and the skills needed to make it in the real world.
Weidner has not been in contact with them since closing the case in November, which she believes is for the best, but said they know she's only a phone call away should they need her.
"It's better to really walk away," Weidner said. "But they know that I'm out there. If they call, they know I would pick up."
At the event, CASA also took the opportunity to thank its sponsors, which include Shore Medical Center, Equity Communications and Atlantic Cape Community College, without whose help its mission of serving the community wouldn't be possible.
CASA also swore in 31 new volunteers, bringing its total up to 180. While this may seem like a large number, it only allows the organization to serve about half of the kids in need in Cape May and Atlantic counties.
Waters said she hopes the organization will have enough volunteers to serve all those who need its help within four years, and that all those on their rolls follow Weidner's example.
"If we could have 350 Connies out there, this world would be a better place," Waters said.
CASA is looking for new volunteers.
For more information on the organization or to register for training sessions, visit atlantic
capecasa.org or call 609-601-7800. The next round of training sessions begins in April.
Contact Braden Campbell: