NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- Children in foster care are some of New York City's most vulnerable residents, and volunteers with the organization CASA NYC are on a mission to make sure young people in the system are taken care of and their rights protected.
But they can't do it all alone
Ericka Francois aged out of the New York City foster system four years ago, and she says there was one person who truly had her back.
"It's like an angel who came down from heaven, honestly," she said. "She is such a sweet, sweet lady."
That woman is Susan Baxt, a volunteer for CASA NYC.
CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates, and for kids who are repeatedly handed off to different case workers, these advocates are a lifeline.
"To know that someone was doing this out of the kindness of their heart and just so attentive...no one has ever done it before," Francois said.
There are about 10,000 kids in the New York City foster system, and CASA works with about 1,000 of them -- those who are considered most at risk.
"What we're looking for in volunteers is people who, above all, can be committed, follow through, and keep any promises that they make to the young people and the families that we serve," CASA NYC Executive Director Kerry Moles said.
Thanks to two grants, CASA is expanding its reach on Staten Island, where access to resources can be trickier.
"We are really looking for Staten Islanders to step up across the borough to serve the most vulnerable children across the island," Moles said.
Volunteers are first screened, then trained, and usually partnered with just one youth.
Andy Poenicke has been volunteering for three years.
"Understanding the impact you can make in someone's life, and how much you can not only be a reference but a friend to someone," said Poenicke, a CASA advocate.
It's rewarding for him and life-changing for the young people in the program.
"It makes you feel like you actually are important, you do matter, and you will go somewhere in life and not just be another statistic," Francois said.
Francois isn't a statistic, she's a success. She is a college graduate now gainfully employed in the non-profit world.