Shades Of Support For Connecticut CASA

Mindi Rose Englart | April 25th, 2024

Shades Of Support For Connecticut CASA

Culture & Community  |  Music  |  Arts & Culture


Mindi Rose Englart Photos.

There was a feeling of unity in the air as the precise harmonies of Shades of Yale floated over the Donald J. Cohen Auditorium at the Yale Child Study Center. In the audience, supporters of Connecticut CASA listened with open ears.

On a recent Wednesday, that was the sound as roughly 40 people gathered to celebrate Connecticut CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), which seeks to give every child who has experienced abuse or neglect a caring, consistent adult to advocate for their well-being. With performances from Shades of Yale, an a capella singing group founded in 1988 to celebrate music of the African diaspora and the African-American tradition, the event raised about $10,000.

With a repertoire of 200 songs, Shades of Yale chose a set of five to inspire the crowd. The group’s carefully-selected mix of well-known spirituals, jazz, and gospel standards spoke to the type of political and community action needed to create change.

How Connecticut CASA Partners Adults with Children in Need


Susana Herrera, Josiah Brown, Carolyn Kinder, Toni Ligon and Mario Chiappetti.

Josiah Brown, executive director of Connecticut CASA, said the organization’s volunteers serve children facing adversity in foster care or under the Department of Children and Families’ (DCF) Protective Supervision.

Program Coordinator Susana Herrera, who joined the organization three months ago, helps train new volunteers and has cases of her own. She said CASA volunteers receive a five week training and then work on only one case at a time.

Herrera, who has a background in education, explained that CASA volunteers are neutral parties who visit with children monthly and make evidence-based recommendations to judges to advance the children’s best interest. They work in partnership with professionals like social workers, attorneys, and educators to identify resources for children and their families.


Lindy Lee Gold, Claire Criscuolo, and Dotty Weston-Murphy.

She said volunteers range in age from their 20s to their 70s and serve more than 100 children in seven of the ten child protection courts in the state.

Brown said the CASA approach is associated with better outcomes for children, who are less likely to return to foster care and who leave the system with more hope than children in similar situations without such advocates.

While waiting for the performance to begin, guests enjoyed drinks donated by the Wine Thief and Better Rhodes, while they mingled and snacked on spanakopita, Mediterranean salad, and cupcakes donated by Claire’s Corner Copia. Owner Claire Criscuolo has been a supporter of Connecticut CASA since Josiah Brown became executive director.

She said she stays committed to CASA because she stays committed to the future.

“I think CASA does a really good job,” she said. “I love that it’s small. I love how they have one-on-one contact with the children.”

The most vulnerable people need the most help and kids in foster care and in protective services fit within that category, Criscuolo said.



Top: Larry and Tanya Hughes came to support their friend Laureen "Toni" Ligon, the newest board member who replaced Carolyn Kinder. Bottom: Erin Daniels is connected to Connecticut CASA through her cousin, Miye Oni, a Connecticut CASA Ambassador.

In addition to staff and volunteers, Connecticut CASA has two ambassadors, Brandon Sherrod and Miye Oni, who inform and engage with people about its mission. Both couldn’t make the event, but Erin Daniels, Oni’s cousin and a student at Yale, came to support.

“I found out about CASA through Miye,” she said. “My sisters and I have trouble finding gifts for him. We decided to start giving donations to CASA in his name.”

Brown said the organization is always looking for committed volunteer advocates and that CASA funding comes from public, foundation, and privately donated dollars. He said his team is currently working to help folks think of CASA during the Great Give, which takes place April 26 through May 2.

35 Years of Songs


Shades of Yale Musical Director Maxwell Brown and business manager Taylor Robin.

Shades of Yale musical director Maxwell Brown and business manager Taylor Robin spoke with community leader Elsie Chapman, who wanted to hear more about the group.

“We work with Black populations to uplift the Black voice.” Brown said. He said they bring music to schools, churches, orphanages and other places where people gather, locally and around the world.

“We just came back from Brazil!” He said their group has performed in Costa Rica, Ireland, China and more.

The group offered listeners a time to be bathed in sound and words as Brown conducted the group through a set of five songs, including a stirring rendition of Etta James’s “At Last” sung by Senlee Dieme and “A Change Is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke, sung by Bobby Hill.

The group received a standing ovation after they closed with their soulful arrangement of “Amen” and “We Shall Overcome,” a medley they sing at the end of every show.

After the concert, Chapman pointed out that often in musical groups she sees, there are mostly white singers with one or two Black singers, while in this group, it was the reverse, with just one white singer.

“It sends a proud message,” she said. “Was that intentional?”

“Absolutely,” Brown said. “We started with a mix and it has evolved and grown. The most important thing is to continue the legacy. You don’t have to be Black to uplift the culture.”