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It’s Personal for Passionate Leader of CASA Berks County

Story written by Ciara Walker Williams

Mar 20, 2023

Nancy McCullar

McCullar Begins her 5th Year as Executive Director

Nancy McCullar spent 35 years running community-based organizations and foster care agencies for children who have been abused and neglected. Now, she’s using her personal and professional experience to grow CASA of Berks County.

Since McCullar joined CASA of Berks as the Executive Director in 2019, their donations and volunteers have increased, which means the number of children they serve has increased.

“When I came in 2019, this iteration of CASA Berks was three years old and teetering between whether we should merge with somebody else or could we make it on our own. I really felt we could make it on our own, so I came in with that kind of energy and vision – and we did,” McCullar says. “Our organization has doubled in size in terms of the contracts and monies brought in as well as the volunteers and children we serve. We were serving about 30-40 children a year when I first started and now we’re serving 110 children a year with about 55 volunteers.”

Communicating the importance of CASA Berks comes naturally for McCullar being that she draws from personal experience. At ten years old, her mother passed away from cancer and she took on a parental role for her 3 brothers – one older and two younger.

“My relatives, the school, the neighbors – everybody just assumed that I would take on that role. And, I did. I was very confident at ten years old,” she recalls. “I got the lunches ready for my brothers. The school would call me when my brothers were sick or needed reprimanding. I was even asked to be the den mother for the neighborhood cub scout group.”

“I was the model of an adultified child,” she adds. “When I came to CASA I thought that’s what I missed throughout my childhood. I didn’t have anyone to talk to about what was going on, and it wasn’t like I was being neglected. I was safe; I just didn’t have a childhood. So, I really understand the kids that we work with knowing what it was like for me to not be able to grieve the loss of my mother because I was the one to care for others.”

Now, caring for others comes naturally for McCullar and it’s her care that has strengthened CASA Berks and her team. She understands the challenges her Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs) may face. She also knows the impact CASAs have on children in the foster care system as well as their families.

“For me, CASA Berks pulls together all of the experience I’ve had working with children who have been abused and neglected in the foster care and school systems,” she says. “I’m so honored to work with volunteers who are doing for these kids what someone should have done for me as a child. How wonderful that our child welfare system has grown to understand how much kids who are lost and alone need somebody to just be their guide and confidant.”

CASAs undergo 30 hours of training over 10 weeks. While the training introduces them to situations they may encounter, McCullar realizes there are some challenges volunteers may not experience until after receiving their first case.

“My role is to help the team stay focused on our goal which is to help the children thrive,” she says. “I bring confidence, enthusiasm, and a sense of humor so nobody feels like it’s the end of the world with a child. I assure them we can solve every problem that’s in front of us because you can’t problem solve when you’re feeling trapped or panicked. I also help prioritize things which helps everybody relax and realize we’re a team and we can do this.”

McCullar joined CASA Berks a few months before the pandemic and sees how things have changed within the child welfare system. One of her goals is to bring awareness to some of the challenges these changes have caused.

“The pandemic changed the child welfare field and a lot of people who were foster parents were not able to continue,” she says. “There are fewer foster homes so a lot of children who would’ve been placed in foster care are still in their biological homes because they may be safe technically, but they’re not getting the medical care they need; they’re not going to school; and they’re not getting attention or thriving.”

“It’s like a throwback to what I experienced,” she adds. “I think the adultified kids are being taken advantage of, but more importantly, there are not enough places for the kids who are very disturbed and traumatized.”

According to McCullar, there are over 400 children in foster care in Berks County and CASA Berks is serving about 100 of them each year. In addition to raising more money, recruiting, and training more volunteers; she wants to develop a children’s alliance with other local agencies.

“While our goal is for every child in foster care to have a CASA, I also want to raise awareness about the cracks in the child welfare system. We need more foster parents,” she says. “And more mental health practitioners skilled in trauma therapy.”

In the meantime, McCullar encourages the members of Berks County to consider becoming a CASA and/or make a donation.

“The bulk of our work is being done by volunteers, so our donations go directly to recruiting and training new volunteers because there are more children who need a CASA,” she says. “One company gave us a three-year pledge and that meant so much because it means we have funding into the future. There are others who make specific donations to send a child to camp or provide support such as equine therapy for a child. Either way, donations go directly to serving our kids.”

McCullar believes her role in serving children through CASA Berks is a gift from God, and she looks forward to leading their continued growth and success.

“I feel like God is saying ‘I’m sorry about your childhood, but you did such a good job that I’m rewarding you with this wonderful job at the end of your career’,” she says. “I love working with my team, I love the work that we’re doing, and it’s all things that I know how to do. The people I get to work with are the kind of people I wish I had in my life when I was a kid. So, this is God’s gift to me that I get to be in this community of people who care about kids the way I always wanted and should’ve had people care about me.”

Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Berks County is a non-profit organization that recruits and trains volunteers as child advocates for the children in Berks County who reside in foster care. It was founded in 2015 under the initiative of Judge Ullman, who saw the need for additional “eyes and ears” on the care of Berks County foster children. Children in foster care who have a CASA volunteer, who is a caring consistent adult in their lives, are more likely to succeed in school, more likely to find a forever home, and half as likely to re-enter the foster care system. There are over 400 children in Berks County who reside in foster care at any one time. The organization’s 50 volunteers advocate for 110 children each year. More information at

CASA of Berks County is actively seeking volunteers. If you’d like to help advocate for children who cannot advocate for themselves, come to an information session to learn more about the application and training process involved in becoming an advocate. Email our Advocate Manager at: [email protected] for more information.

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