CASA honors Scibak, Josephson for advocacy work

  • State Rep. John Scibak speaks during a round table discussion at Barstow Longview Farm in Hadley in September 2017. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • John Scibak speaks at the Friends of Children Advocacy Awards Dinner where he was honored Thursday. Bera Dunau—Bera Dunau

  • The Galarza-Perez family with Friends of Children Executive Director Jane Lyons at the organization's Advocacy Awards Dinner. Bera Dunau—Bera Dunau

@BeraDunau
Published: 11/2/2018 12:25:59 AM

NORTHAMPTON — A retiring state lawkamer and a lobbyist were honored by the nonprofit Friends of Children at its Advocacy Awards Dinner Thursday night for their work on behalf of the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program.

Yet both Rep. John Scibak, D-South Hadley, who was referred to as the program’s legislative champion, and Ben Josephson, who does his lobbying work on behalf of CASA program pro bono, deflected full credit from themselves.

In his remarks, Josephson gave credit to Scibak.

“Beyond any other member of the House of Representatives, he made it his mission every budget cycle to see that CASA was funded,” Josephson said.

“There is no more honorable and hardworking person in that building,” he said.

For his part, Scibak deferred credit to Josephson, while also praising the work of those present.

“The true champions today are all of you,” the retiring representative said. “Not me.”

CASA is a program that that sees volunteers appointed by juvenile court judges to be the advocates of children in abuse and neglect cases. Volunteers stay with the child they’ve been assigned to until that child is in a permanent home. In Franklin and Hampshire counties it is run out of Friends of Children, a nonprofit child advocacy organization.

“There needs to be that non-institutional voice,” said Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan, in his remarks praising Scibak.

The event was held at the Garden House at Look Park, and featured a cocktail hour and dinner, along with a number of speakers who praised the tireless work of the two men on behalf of the program.

“He has been our legislative sherpa at the State house,” said Jane Lyons, executive director of Friends of Children, speaking of Josephson.

CASA advocate Joanne Vanin said that while a replacement champion for Scibak will need to be found, such a legislator would not be able to rise to Scibak’s heights.

“They will never step up quite as high,” she said.

Perhaps the most powerful praise came from those directly affected by the work of the two men.

The Galarza-Perez family, of Pittsfield, has had two children represented by Vanin, with son Isiah being formally adopted into the family in 2014.

“Without CASA, none of this would have been possible,” said Elizabeth Galarza-Perez. “Without you, Rep. Scibak, we would not be this wonderful family.”

Jacob Masenior described how Josephson lobbied on behalf of his daughter so she could get the medical care that she needed.

“Ben, you really paved that way for us,” he said.

Masenior also said that five years later, his daughter has become a wonderful young woman.

“That’s because of people like you,” he said.

Both men were also given citations from the U.S. Senate courtesy of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, although the senator was not at the ceremony. The late state Rep. Peter Kocot, D-Northampton, a friend and advocate of the program, was also mentioned in the course of the program.

In his remarks, Scibak spoke with great passion about CASA.

“All too often, kids are pawns in this chess game,” said Scibak.

He said that while not getting money to fix a road or a bridge will inconvenience people, they will survive. Not so with CASA funding.

“These kids only have one shot,” he said.

He also noted that in the years when it wasn’t funded, the program in Hampshire County and Franklin County was funded with Lyons’ personal credit card.

“Because it’s too important,” said Scibak. “How do you say no to that?”

In January, Scibak will be moving full-time to Sarasota, Florida. However, his work on behalf of CASA will not be finished.

“We’re conscripting you,” Josephson said.

And it doesn’t seem like Scibak is going to be fighting the induction either.

“I’ll make the calls in the spring,” said Scibak. “We can’t tell these kids to wait”

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.




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