In the News

February 2016 CASA of the Month

Published: February 04, 2016

Our amazing CASA Volunteers make a difference in the lives of foster children every day. For your inspiration, we will be spotlighting one of these everyday heroes as CASA Volunteer of the Month.

Sally Puccini


Why did you decide to become a CASA Volunteer?

I had been a volunteer with various other non-profit organizations where the work did not put me face to face with the people I wanted to help. I love to work with kids so when I learned about the CASA program it sounded perfect, just what I was hoping to find.

How long have you been a CASA Volunteer and how many children have you worked with?

I have been a CASA for almost 3 ½ years. I have only worked with one young girl so far. Her family has ongoing needs so I have decided to stay involved indefinitely. She has an older sister who also has a CASA who started about the same time, so we are able to do things with the two girls together which has been great!

What do you like best about volunteering with CASA?

I feel like I am making a positive difference in her life.  I enjoy spending time with her and thinking of fun and educational things for us to do each week. I love seeing her happy and thriving. Having the CASA group’s support and being able to work with other people involved in this case makes me feel more effective than I could be on my own.

How has being a CASA Volunteer positively impacted your life?

It has made me more aware of how many children are not as fortunate and in need of someone to focus on them. I only wish I could do more but I am glad I am able to spend as much time with my little girl to help open up her world to things she might otherwise not be able to experience.

Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

For the past 3 years she has asked me to come to her School’s Halloween parade, which I have … in costume (as a witch, a space woman and as a pirate)!

January 2016 CASA of the Month

Published: January 05, 2016

Our amazing CASA Volunteers make a difference in the lives of foster children every day. For your inspiration, we will be spotlighting one of these everyday heroes as CASA Volunteer of the Month.

Joan Silberman


Why did you decide to become a CASA Volunteer?

Once retired from special ed teaching, I found that I missed the interaction with students and the ability to be a resource, a cheerleader or just a person who listens to a kid. Some of my students had CASA’s and my son who is an attorney for San Mateo County thought I might like to become an advocate.

How long have you been a CASA Volunteer and how many children have you worked with?

I believe I did my training in early 2011 and chose a child right after I was sworn in. I am trying to remember but I believe I had a young man at Juvenile Hall who wanted to learn to read and then T. There may have been one other young man on probation but I think it was short-lived. I have been seeing T since August 2013.

What do you like best about volunteering with CASA?

I enjoy the give and take relationship with the child where I can be someone other than the guardian, social worker or therapist to whom the child can talk. When I am with my CASA kid, it’s her time. She is the center of the time we spend together. I am able to observe her life and advocate for her in a way no one else can.

How has being a CASA Volunteer positively impacted your life?

I know CASA speaks about how important it is for the child to have someone consistent in his or her life. I appreciate the consistency of having an ongoing relationship, weekly with someone. I benefit from the consistency, too.  For 33 years, part of my identity was my profession as a Special Ed teacher. Now, in retirement, part of my identity is my role as a CASA.

Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

A fun fact! Hmmm, I don’t know if this is fun but I sing in two choruses. One is made up of a bunch of singers in their 20’s through 70’s singing all kinds of music. The other is in a group which sings quietly at bedside for people who are ill. The two groups couldn’t be more different. I enjoy them both.

December 2015 CASA of the Month

Published: December 01, 2015

Our amazing CASA Volunteers make a difference in the lives of foster children every day. For your inspiration, we will be spotlighting one of these everyday heroes as CASA Volunteer of the Month.

Joy McNab


Why did you decide to become a CASA Volunteer?

I decided to become a CASA volunteer because I knew first-hand how frightening it is for a child when there is upheaval in your family. So many questions and so few answers.  I wanted to be their voice for a time to find answers for questions they may have and to bring attention to any needs they have that haven’t been met.

How long have you been a CASA Volunteer and how many children have you worked with?

I have been a CASA volunteer for seven years and have worked with four children.

What do you like best about volunteering with CASA?

What I like best about being a CASA is the realization that one person can make such an impact on a child’s life.

Being there for the child during this turbulent time and letting them know that I am their advocate.  

How has being a CASA Volunteer positively impacted your life?

Being a CASA volunteer has been very rewarding. The great satisfaction I receive knowing the impact that I have had in the child’s life and I truly feel that a CASA can impact the child’s life in a very positive way that will affect them for the rest of their lives.  I am so proud to be able to say, I AM A CASA VOLUNTEER.

Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

Well a fun fact I guess would be I have a lot of fun playing Mahjongg on Thursdays with my friends.

November 2015 CASA of the Month

Published: November 06, 2015

Our amazing CASA Volunteers make a difference in the lives of foster children every day. For your inspiration, we will be spotlighting one of these everyday heroes as CASA Volunteer of the Month.


Barbara Nelson

barbara (2)

Why did you decide to become a CASA Volunteer?

I’ve always enjoyed spending time with children, seeing how they learn and enjoy new experiences. Children give you an excellent excuse to spend time completely focused on one activity – stopping to smell the roses (literally). My own children were getting a bit older, and I didn’t need to spend quite as much time with them at the weekends. I felt that I had some time to devote to others. I had heard about the CASA program and thought it would be a great way to spend quality time with a child, helping to make a difference in their life, while also doing something that I enjoyed.

How long have you been a CASA Volunteer and how many children have you worked with?

I’ve been a CASA volunteer since 2007. I have had three different cases, with a total of five children (for my second case, I was the CASA for three siblings). My first case lasted about 8 months. The second case took over 3 years. My third case lasted over four years. Now I am a CASA peer supervisor, helping other CASA volunteers, so that more children can get their own CASA.

What do you like best about volunteering with CASA?

Volunteering with CASA is a great balance of a long-term commitment and tremendous flexibility. I’ve been able to be a CASA volunteer while also having a full-time job and traveling on business (occasionally fairly long international trips). I find it very rewarding as I can see that I am making a positive difference in the life of a child (and their family). It’s also a great excuse to slow down, and see life at the child’s pace.

How has being a CASA Volunteer positively impacted your life?

It sounds corny but it is great to see that I am making a difference in the life of a child. Just by being there, I’m creating memories for these children that they wouldn’t have experienced without me. I’m giving them focused time that they know they are important, and they know they matter. I took two of my CASA children camping once (with the social worker’s permission :-)) and it was incredible to be with them, and see them experience camping, and hiking, and cooking over an open fire, and looking up at the stars, and having SMOREs for the first time in their lives. The time that I have spent as a CASA has been incredibly rewarding, when I take a step back and look at how I am impacting a child. Sure, there are the days when they are being sulky and I wonder why I do it, but then there are the days when they just light up, and are so happy to see me, that it’s all worthwhile, and that is so rewarding.

Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

Hmmm – I am one of eight children, and grew up in Ireland before moving to California after college. I guess that’s part of what appeals to me about being a CASA. I loved growing up in a big family, and am very close to my parents and my siblings, but there were times that I craved some one-on-one time, which is hard to get when you are one of eight. As a CASA I am giving that one-on-one time to a child who may get very little attention. It may only be a few hours a week, but I know it’s making a difference.

Opportunity for Karate Lessons for CASA Youth

Published: October 29, 2015

Jennifer McCloskey is a current student and member of Silicon Valley Shotokan Karate. Having served as a mentor for foster teens as part of the San Diego County Foster Youth Mentor Program, she would like to help interested CASA youth learn about the kids and teens karate programs at Silicon Valley Shotokan Karate, and help interested students get involved with lessons.

Over time and with consistent effort, karate training can make you stronger both physically and mentally, sharpen your awareness and focus, learn self-control and discipline, help you be better able to defend yourself, and increase your self-confidence. Kids have fun while learning important techniques and life skills. Anyone can benefit from this, but especially our CASA kids due to the unique challenges they face in their lives.

Classes at Silicon Valley Shotokan Karate are available for kids (6-12 years old), teens (13-18 years old), and adults. Classes are held at two locations in Palo Alto and one location in Redwood City. Silicon Valley Shotokan Karate offers a free trial class to all interested in learning karate, and Jennifer can help students interested in committing to a continued practice understand fee options that they can afford, based on their individual circumstances. Classes are offered on evenings and Saturdays.

Please contact Vanessa, at 650-517-8699 or, by November 15, 2015 if you are interested in more information or would like to register for a class.

Flyer with Class Description and Info: Shotokan Karate Flyer

Visit Shotokan Karate’s website to learn more about their programs.

SVK Karate Kids and Jon Sensei

CASA Volunteer Wins 49ers Community Quarterback Award

Published: October 21, 2015

CASA Volunteer Dena Zwingle Awarded 49ers Community Quarterback Award

CASA of San Mateo County is excited to announce that outstanding CASA Volunteer, Dena Zwingle, was chosen as the 2015 winner of the 49ers Community Quarterback Awards. The 49ers Community Quarterback program, as part of the NFL Charities Community Quarterback Awards efforts, recognizes dedicated local individuals who devote their time to improving the lives of Bay Area residents. CASA’s Executive Director, Patricia Miljanich, expressed her gratitude to the 49ers for recognizing Dena as well as the mission and work of the organization, “Dena embodies the heartfelt compassion and tireless dedication of so many of our CASA Volunteers.”
Former San Francisco 49ers Quarterback, Steve Bono, presented Dena with a plaque at a luncheon at the Citrix Owner’s Club in Levi Stadium as well as a generous $10,000 donation to CASA. Dena and six finalists were recognized in a pre-game, on-field ceremony at Levi’s Stadium during the 49ers matchup against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, October 18th. Dena was thrilled to appear on the Jumbo Tron in a CASA T-shirt and have an announcer introduce CASA to the 49ers fans who filled the stadium. Dena says she felt humbled to have been chosen among hundreds of exemplary volunteers who have demonstrated a passion for serving others. “Receiving this award has been a real honor. I am elated that the $10,000 grant will allow us to pair more foster children on our waitlist with a caring CASA Volunteer.”

We invite you to read Dena’s nomination, which is a true testimony to the life-changing impact she has had on so many children.



CASA Volunteer Dena Zwingle has bettered the lives of 11 foster children in the last 14 years with her steadfast dedication and unwavering faith in the intrinsic worth of each child. CASA of San Mateo’s County’s model of service delivery requires CASA Volunteers to meet with each child weekly. Because Dena often worked with more than one child at a time and most of her partnerships lasted 2-3 years, she has logged over 3,000 hours.

In an overburdened system where social workers and therapists change frequently and children are shuttled from one home placement to the next, CASA Volunteers like Dena may be the only consistent adult in a foster child’s life. Over the years, Dena has provided consistent support during traumatic events and transitions, such as changes in home placements, schools, and foster families. She built close relationship with each child and through her Court Reports and appearance at hearings made recommendations to Juvenile Court Judges so that they could make the most informed decisions possible about each child’s future.
Dena’s humor and playfulness engages every child who immediately understand they have found someone they can trust. Dena establishes instant rapport by explaining to each foster child that, unlike social workers and other well-meaning people working in the system, she is not going to ask questions. “I explain that I am always available if they want to talk, but I don’t pressure them to tell me anything.” As result, Dena finds that the children often launch into deeply personal, often heart wrenching conversations starting with their own question, “Dena, can I tell you something?”

Regardless of how challenging a child’s behaviors can be, her joyful and nonjudgmental personality brings out the child’s most endearing qualities. When the foster care system seems to be giving up on a child, she puts her heart into championing his cause. Several of her CASA children had been called “unadoptable,” but Dena fiercely challenged that label. Children blossom under her care. Dena’s advocacy efforts have resulted in 5 “unadoptable” children being placed into permanent, loving families. At the request of many new adoptive families, Dena has volunteered to take on the role of “aunt” until the child is thriving in his new home.
Dena always puts the needs of a child first. Dena will fight to ensure a child is receiving academic instruction appropriate to the child’s ability. Dena is observant and consistently follows up on concerns regarding a child’s health and well-being. When Dena suspects that a placement is not safe or inappropriate, she will go the extra mile to demonstrate this to the judge. In one instance, she found a way to inspect a home and discovered unsanitary conditions, an empty refrigerator and no appropriate bed for the child. In another instance she noticed a child’s hair loss, and investigated the situation. Finally, it was revealed that an older girl in the child foster home had been abusing the boy and he was moved to a new home.

Dena shows her respect for the children she works with by guiding them with a firm hand and not giving in to challenging behaviors. When a school reported that her CASA child was truant, Dena drove around until she found the 13-year-old and delivered her to school. Dena got the girl to commit to going to school and doing her homework by rewarding her with a quilt that the two of them would make together. Says Dena, “All any child needs is one person to consistently show up and be there for them.”
Dena brings a child to life in the courtroom because she gets to know them well and has genuine affection for them all. “I have had 11 CASA children, and I’ve loved every one of them.” Her heartfelt compassion has had the power to transform lives.
Dena’s positive energy is infectious. It is said that nobody — social workers, attorneys, teachers, prospective volunteers or donors can say “no” to Dena. Dena’s combination of warmth, humor, common sense and unwavering commitment to each foster child makes for a persuasive style that few can resist. Often, a foster child’s team is fractured, with each professional working in separate bureaucracies, losing a sense of the child as a whole person. She succeeds in bringing together a cohesive team who collaborate to meet the unique needs of each individual child. In court reports, she describes collaboration such as observing parental visits together with the child’s social worker and therapist.

Dena navigates the system respectfully and with diplomacy but does not back down when she feels that justice has not been done. In one case, Dena was determined to eliminate the roadblocks that were preventing two sisters from being reunited in the same foster family. Child welfare policies were preventing authorities from expediting reunification. In the end, professionals who originally were delaying the reunification not only agreed to Dena’s recommendations but thanked her for them. It is not surprising that both social workers and foster parents alike request to have Dena in their corner.
CASA has been able to take more and more children off its waitlist each year in part because of Dena’s fundraising efforts. She was one of the founding members of our annual Garden Party, which raises nearly 20% of the budget. Her energy and work ethic are an inspiration.

David’s Story

Dena met David when he was only 5. He had witnessed terrible violence and suffered physical abuse at the hands of his father. No one had ever really played with him or engaged him in simple, every day pleasures. When Dena took him out to hunt for bugs, he pronounced it “the best day ever.” David was understandably traumatized and would sometimes test Dena with hurtful words or by throwing food in her car. But she did not abandon him. David asked if he could call Dena or his teacher “Mom.” More and more, he expressed his desire to be part of a family.

The adults in his life thought David’s case was hopeless, but Dena worked to change their perceptions. When David’s school principal pronounced the kindergartener “a mess,” Dena got him a haircut, laces for his sneakers, and taught him to dress appropriately for school. As a result of her patience and compassion, David’s behavior improved, and at the end of the year the principal gave him an award and invited him to lunch. Frustrated that David was labeled “unadoptable,” Dena worked harder to present David in a positive light and introduce the Court to the sweet, loving child that she knew. Dena reported how much she enjoyed watching David have fun and hearing him laugh. She listened and helped David cope with his fear and his pain. In time, Dena’s persistence and faith in David resulted in an adoption. One day she accompanied him to a store to pick up a gift for his new family. He chose a stone with the words “I will never leave you.”

Support CASA through Amazon Smile!

Published: September 30, 2015

Support CASA by shopping through Amazon Smile! Amazon Smile is the same Amazon you know – same products, same prices, and same service. It just has the added benefit of allowing you to donate part of your purchase to a good cause. All you have to do is nominate CASA of San Mateo County as your chosen charity and Amazon will donate 0.5% of every qualifying purchase you make on its site to us. Follow the instructions below to set up your Amazon Smile account.

Step by Step Sign in for Amazon Smile:

Step 1: Click here to go to the Amazon Smile website and sign in using your Amazon account

Step 2: Type “CASA of San Mateo County” into the charitable organization search box and select it as the charitable organization you’d like to support

Step 3: From now on, do your shopping on Amazon as you normally do – just remember to use the Amazon Smile address instead of the usual Amazon address. It might be helpful to add Amazon Smile as a bookmark/favorite in your browser so you remember to use this address

When you’re using Amazon Smile, you’ll see “Supporting: CASA of San Mateo County” at the top of each page on the website. You’ll also see an “Eligible for Amazon Smile donation” label on each of your purchases that qualifies for a donation (there are millions of items covered).

Thank you for your support!

October 2015 CASA of the Month

Published: September 29, 2015

Our amazing CASA Volunteers make a difference in the lives of foster children every day. For your inspiration, we will be spotlighting one of these everyday heroes as CASA Volunteer of the Month.

Lisa Mechler


Why did you decide to become a CASA Volunteer?

I heard about CASA in college and I had been interested in it ever since. I was intrigued by the level of responsibility that comes with being a CASA and the remarkable positive impact that a CASA can have in a child’s life. In particular, I felt the pull to volunteer my time in a way that would positively impact children in a long-lasting way. CASA, I knew, was just the right fit for me.

How long have you been a CASA Volunteer and how many children have you worked with?

I have been a CASA since 2013 and I have worked with one child so far. The case just closed in September after being assigned almost 2 years ago.

What do you like best about volunteering with CASA?

I have found it a huge privilege to watch the young girl I advocated for grow up so much within 2 years. I have seen her mature throughout our time together and I feel so honored that she let me into her life so warmly. On a less serious note, I have also loved how spending time with my child has allowed me to harness my inner child; she’s young and so being silly and playing together is a common occurrence. :-)

How has being a CASA Volunteer positively impacted your life?

Being a CASA Volunteer has allowed me to gain a new perspective on issues such as mental health and substance abuse. The CASA training and some of the situations to which I have been exposed have allowed me the opportunity to explore my own viewpoints and think twice before passing judgement on others and their decisions. And, of course, needless to say, I have the built in benefit of hanging out with a great kid all the time!

Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

This is random but my first car was a red 1966 Ford Mustang. Now I drive a Mini Cooper. For being just under 5 Ft tall, the Mini Cooper is a much better fit. :-)

CASAs Support College Readiness Program

Published: September 16, 2015

Most incarcerated youth do not envision a future that includes higher education. Project Change is a unique community college supported program which helps youth overcome barriers to postsecondary and career goals. Under the direction of Katie Bliss, Project Director at San Mateo Community College, 28 young people in juvenile hall successfully completed “Keys to Success,” which is the first college course ever offered at the juvenile hall with in person-instruction.

Today, CASA of San Mateo County celebrates the achievements of these hardworking students who earned dual college credit and triple high school credit. We would like to extend our appreciation to the eight CASA Volunteers who provided tremendous classroom support by facilitating discussions, offering guidance on essay writing, and coaching students in math labs. CASA Volunteer Teresa Fontana says she enjoyed watching students build confidence. Fontana also described the rapport that developed and how many students were obviously intrigued with the role of CASA Volunteers. Program Manager, Jorge Contreras, points out that many incarcerated youth only hear about the CASA program through impersonal mailings or through a probation officer. CASA’s partnership with Project Change presented an unexpected opportunity to reach out to youth who might not have otherwise considered the benefits of being paired with a caring, CASA Volunteer.

Keys to Success

September 2015 CASA of the Month

Published: September 03, 2015

Our amazing CASA Volunteers make a difference in the lives of foster children every day. For your inspiration, we will be spotlighting one of these everyday heroes as CASA Volunteer of the Month.

Sue Cambron


Why did you decide to become a CASA Volunteer?

I had been volunteering with children for years at school reading classes or county groups. When the youngest of our three children left for college, I saw a CASA advertisement. After talking with Pat Miljanich and finding out what a CASA Volunteer does I knew it was something I would really be interested in doing.

How long have you been a CASA Volunteer and how many children have you worked with?

I have been a CASA Volunteer for about 15 years (12/19/2000) and have worked with 5 children. My cases lasted about two years and one case that lasted seven years. I also took a leave of absence for about a year after our fourth grandchild was born (we now have six). I thought that with the involvement we had with our grandchildren and working full time, being a CASA might be have to wait. I was wrong, I think you find time for what you really want to do. After a year leave I was back and am so glad I made that decision!

What do you like best about volunteering with CASA?

I really like that I know I am making a difference in a child’s life. Just being the one that is a constant in that child’s life is so important. Making sure they are receiving all the help available in school, finding an activity or hobby they really enjoy and become involved in, the list is endless. The progress is sometimes slow but it just takes perseverance when you are trying to make changes. We are so lucky to have a great staff at CASA and all of my supervisors through the years have been so helpful when I needed guidance.

How has being a CASA Volunteer positively impacted your life?

I have learned so much in the last 15 years. I had to develop skills I didn’t have to work through some of the problems the children were having. Seeing the improvement in their lives has been so rewarding.

Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

I love horses and have had a horse in my teenage years and again for several years during my adult life. I like being able to share this interest with my CASA children. Thanks to an agreement with CASA and Excel Equestrian, CASA children are able to experience being able to groom a horse and learn how to saddle them before their lesson or trail ride. Mandy is an exceptional teacher and easily has the trust of the children. This has been such a great program and I am sure every child that was able to take advantage of it has a wonderful lasting memory of their experience.