As president of Child Services Association (CSA), one of ACNJ’s parent organizations, Corrine Driver shares her memories on the formation of ACNJ.
My reflections are about the creation of an organization now called Advocates for Children of New Jersey.
ACNJ was formed through the merger of two organizations, Child Service Association (CSA) and Citizens Committee for Children of New Jersey (CCCNJ). CSA was located in a very large, multi-story brick building on Broadway in Newark. Previously, that building had been an orphanage. The orphanage had evolved into a social service agency with a major emphasis on enabling the adoptions of children. Over many years of effectively finding homes for children and effectively publicizing this success, gifts from generous donors resulted in the creation of a large endowment. The fundraising effort was assisted by the fact that the CSA executive director, Dr. Leontyne Young, was a nationally known and admired social worker and author.
CCCNJ was a grass roots, ever-growing group of volunteers dedicated to improving the way New Jersey’s social service system protected New Jersey children dependent on that system. CCCNJ had very little money but it had a tremendous amount of volunteer power with an ever growing membership.
At the time, Dr. Young retired as executive director from CSA. The protection of families and children was shifting and becoming more and more the responsibility of the state. Laws and policies governing adoption and foster care were changing. The board of CSA was faced with the decision as to whether to continue as a direct service agency within a growing bureaucracy or become a voice for children in a different and independent way. After months of examining and debating options, the board determined that CSA’s endowment could perform its greatest service to children by using its freedom from depending on public dollars. It decided to leverage its endowment by focusing on public policies that impacted all children.
I was president of CSA and Jim Boskey was president of CCCNJ. We worked together and with our boards over a period of many additional months to bring all board members to a point where they could vote for a merger of our organizations.
The decision-making was very difficult. Two boards of directors, both with the goal of helping children but with two totally different approaches in doing that, had to be brought to an agreement before a merger could take place. The idea of moving from being a direct service agency was anathema to many long-time CSA board members. Also, a large endowment dedicated to serving children had to be guarded and preserved.
For CCCNJ, the value of utilizing volunteer power and flexing citizens’ political muscle on behalf of children was vital. The bottom line — both boards had to figure out how to utilize and enhance the leverage of a lot of private dollars toward children while also utilizing and emphasizing the strength of the volunteer sector.
Independence was a common denominator. Independent money and volunteers independent from public systems could create the freedom to ask questions about what was happening to children that no one else was asking.
With this high hope, the boards of CSA and CCCNJ voted to merge their organizations into ACNJ, The Association for Children of New Jersey, and create an “army” of informed volunteers involved in carrying out activities on behalf of children.
ACNJ, now called Advocates for Children of New Jersey, values its independence and its supporters and will continue to study and then speak out about issues impacting New Jersey’s children.