This Month's Volunteer Spotlight!

Meet Kathryn Tropeano of Westfield

"I've found judges rely on us for the ‘real’ story.
That’s very affirming.”

A tumultuous childhood and chaotic home life for Kathryn, the second of nine children, makes understanding the value of a supportive adult a no-brainer. Her father was manic depressive and an alcoholic and, she says, “I actually didn't have anyone in my life I could lean on; back in the day people kept family problems to themselves, so seeking out an adult for support wasn’t an option. I’d like to be that necessary support when dealing with a less-than-perfect home life.”

And that she is. For this Westfield Public Schools foodservice director, not even long workdays prevent her from seeing her CASA youth. She established a specific time for weekly visits and they’ve simply become part of her routine. Besides getting “obliterated” at the card game UNO, Kathryn says their visits also include playing hangman, tic-tac-toe and even Yahtzee, which she taught the youth. “I find she's more inclined to talk to me while occupied with something else.” And this helps in court. “I definitely feel confident then because I know what's going on in my child's life and can present that to the judge. I've found judges rely on us for the ‘real’ story. That’s very affirming.”

A mom of two — her son recently opened Resident Culture brewery in Charlotte, North Carolina and her daughter this year graduated from Cincinnati’s College Conservatory of Music and is “a struggling actor” in Brooklyn — Kathryn became an advocate in 2013 and is now working her third case. She says, “It's an honor to be part of such an admirable and inspiring organization. Every single person I've encountered both at the CASA office and in the CASA volunteer world is dedicated to making a difference in a child's life. It's a pretty amazing place to be.” 

Kathryn faced a decision during her first case that highlights the import of CASA’s role: “The child revealed her mother had abused her the weekend before. It had taken me months to get her to open up, so I knew we'd just broken through another barrier. Despite it feeling really good to know she trusted me, I had no choice but to report the abuse. It was heartbreaking. It was a very tough lesson.”

Still, there’s many bright spots. When asked for her most gratifying experience, she quipped, “Learning how to navigate the city of Elizabeth [where the county courthouse, CASA office and some casework has been]! No, true gratification comes from leaving a visit with an even deeper understanding of my CASA child. I feel most gratified after a good visit, especially one where we share stories and a laugh or two.” 

In addition to career, CASA casework and culinary skill, Kathryn makes time to feed her passion for reading. “I always have a stack of books beside my bed! My favorites are chef biographies; I particularly love Prune by Gabrielle Hamilton and Ruth Reichl’s Comfort Me With Apples and Tender at the Bone.”
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