Wednesday, April 1, 2015

How to prevent another Charlenni

CASA gives voice to the voiceless.

How to prevent another Charlenni

Little girls love pink and pretty colors. I can’t help thinking how, if 10-year-old Charlenni Ferreira were alive to see them, she would adore these Hanna Montana and Princess balloons, which were left on the front-porch memorial yesterday at the Feltonville home where Charlenni lived a desperate life.

The shiny Mylar baubles bounced in the chilly wind, sharing space with dozens of stuffed animals, candles and long-stemmed roses, symbolic of the regard that all children deserve – a regard denied Charlenni by her father and step-mother, who have been charged with her murder.

I was among the flow of visitors who stopped by the house, out of respect for Charlenni. Out of sorrow. Out of rage that she has joined Danieal Kelly, Porchia Bennett, Charnae Wise and a seemingly endless list of innocents in this city whose lives meant nothing to the people who were supposed to cherish them.

“I did not know the little girl,” said one young visitor, tears running down her face, her eyes taking in the memorial. “I wish I had. I would’ve taken her away from here.”
I was feeling sad and paralyzed when I got back to the newsroom. And then I opened an e-mail, from Tom McCourt, whose edited letter I’m printing here, because he offers a way out of the helplessess.
Tom heads the board that runs CASA, or Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children, whose mission is to prevent the Charlennis of this city from meeting such a painful end.
By cruel irony, Tom knows very well the precise block where Charlenni was tortured.
He writes:
“I grew up in the same neighborhood. The apartment that my parents rented - beginning shortly before my birth until the arrival of the first of my three sisters – is across the street from the house where Charlenni lived and suffered. 
“When I think of that apartment, I think of old photographs of my early childhood: young, loving parents doting over a pudgy, smiling, loved baby.  I am having difficulty juxtaposing the joy that was my life on "C" Street with the torture that was Charlenni's.
“That any living creature should suffer the depth and breadth of depravity inflicted upon Charlenni is wrong.  That it should be inflicted upon a child is unthinkable.  That it was inflicted upon a child by those purported to love the child is indescribable. Who will pledge to support our abused and neglected children?  Who will offer up their time and effort to ensure that children like Charlenni do not "fall through the cracks"?  Who speaks on behalf of these children?
"CASA volunteers do.
“CASA is dedicated to the idea that every child deserves a safe, permanent home.  This organization recruits, trains and supervises volunteers from the community who advocate on behalf of abused and neglected children in Family Court.  CASA volunteers literally give voice to the voiceless.  
“In many parts of the country, CASA programs are State or Court-funded.  That is not the case in Pennsylvania.  Due to a combination of a generally weak economy, Pennsylvania's budget mess and the resultant financial crunch in Philadelphia, CASA is more in need now than perhaps ever before.
"As I write this, sitting close to the statue of Billy Penn high atop City Hall, children in Philadelphia are being neglected.  They are being abused.  They are being raped, burned and broken.  CASA currently serves under 10% of the estimated number of children in Philadelphia believed to be in need of a CASA volunteer.  For all the great work that our staff and volunteers do on behalf of one child, there are nine children waiting.  Not waiting for a bus on a sunny day...waiting for the abuse to stop.  Waiting for safety.  Waiting for help.  Waiting for a CASA volunteer. 
"There is no shortage of potential volunteers willing to help, but CASA needs resources, funds to train them, to conduct background checks, and (in accordance with the memorandum of agreement with the Courts) to hire a qualified Case Manager for every 25 active volunteers. 
“There are several ways to help CASA.  The United Way number is 19692.  There is a one-day BookFair supporting CASA of Philadelphia this Saturday, October 24th, at the Barnes and Noble on Rittenhouse Square.  Visit the bookfair, or any Barnes and Noble (including their website) and make all your purchases using BookFair Code 10011211. 
"Forward this email to at least one friend.  It's not a "good-luck chain,” and Microsoft will not send you a check if you forward it, but you might just make a difference in the life of an at-risk child.  Finally, you can help the old-fashioned way: write a check.  Believe me, any amount will make a difference.”
“Our goal is to put an end to the suffering of Philadelphia's abused and neglected children...and not in the way that it ended for poor Charlenni.”
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Ronnie Polaneczky Daily News Columnist
About this blog

When my phone rings here at the Daily News, nine times out of ten the caller begins the conversation with, “Yeah, so what happened was…”.

Because this is Philly, the caller doesn’t say, “My name is Bob” – or Mary – “and I wonder if I could have a moment of your time?” Philadelphians are too direct for that. They just say, “Yeah, so what happened was…”, and then tumble into a tale they think oughta be shared with a wider audience. I love getting these calls (even the ones where it becomes clear, after 30 seconds, where the caller sowed the seeds of his own misery), because they give me chance to connect with fellow citizens in a way that no other job allows. Well, okay, no other job for which I’m remotely qualified.

That’s why my blog is titled “So What Happened Was…”. To me, it’s the quintessentially Philly way of saying, “Once upon a time.” When I hear it, I know a good story is coming. And I can’t wait to see how it turns out.

Ronnie Polaneczky has been an award-winning columnist for The Philadelphia Daily News since 1999, offering a front-steps perspective on every aspect of city life, from the sublime to the stupid. In her past life, she was the editor-in-chief of Atlantic City Magazine, associate editor at Philadelphia Magazine and a fulltime freelancer published in Ladies Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, Redbook, Reader's Digest, Men's Health, MarieClaire and others. She lives with her husband, daughter and various pets in the city's Fairmount section, where she dreams of one day singing The National Anthem at an Eagles game. In addition to her column and blog, you can enjoy Ronnie's musings in podcast form here.

Read more from Ronnie Polaneczky at Earth to Philly, the Daily News blog on anything and everything "Green Reach Ronnie at

Ronnie Polaneczky Daily News Columnist
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