The sunlight filtered through the trees on Monterey Square, illuminating the brick path in front of me. It was August 2018, and as I left the old CASA office, I took a photo of the path and the sun peeking delicately between the Spanish moss and branches. I walked confidently down that straight path, prepared to be a change agent, one child at a time.
My decision to become a CASA Volunteer grew over time. In 1995, I graduated with my M.S. in social work. I began working with people with dementia, Alzheimer’s, and various mental illnesses. I witnessed first-hand abuse and learned to navigate a government system full of red tape. This is when I first heard of CASA, a Court Appointed Special Advocate - a person who advocates for the best interest of a child in foster care. A seed was planted in my heart.
After my son was born, I moved to part-time. Two years later, our twin daughters were born. My husband’s career began to take off, resulting in 11 career moves. We decided it was best I stayed home with the children, which was no easy task. I became an expert at investigating communities, school systems, doctors, and relocating our family quickly through the years. When the twins were in first grade, we learned that one was on the autism spectrum with a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome. Although I suspected the diagnosis, it was difficult to accept. But it was a relief to finally have answers. Now I had a path to follow.
I became a fierce advocate for my daughter. Each move brought new challenges as I transitioned each child into a new environment. I quickly noticed that not every child has a parent who knows how to advocate. It was evident that children with hidden disabilities, such as autism, easily slip through the cracks and do not receive services to succeed.
Bloom Where You Are Planted
Remember the “CASA seed” planted 20 years ago? In July 2018, we were again uprooted and replanted in Savannah. As a social worker, I wanted to be of service to others. I recalled my love of CASA’s mission and soon discovered Savannah CASA. Before I finished unpacking the boxes, I had filled out an application.
My journey as a CASA brings paths, seeds, and flowers to mind. Unlike that straight, sunlit path that welcomed me after I first left the CASA office, the path of a Volunteer is not always well lit. As Volunteers, we press on because we see narrow rays of sunlight. We tend to our relationships with the CASA children. We plant seeds in compacted soil, and we find ways to allow struggling roots to push through and grow into a world where a child has acceptance and belonging.
As a CASA Volunteer, I have advocated for four children in three years. My last two children were commercially sexually exploited. They participate in HOPE Court (Healing Opportunities Through Positive Empowerment) - a new, incentive-based court for youth experiencing commercial exploitation. During the first year of HOPE court, a team of exceptional individuals worked tirelessly cultivating the seeds, adding the right combination of nutrients to grow a program that flourishes. The challenges I faced were beyond anything I experienced as a social worker. Donning my most durable garden gloves, I started digging and sifting through the weeds to learn anything and everything I could about my CASA children and their families. During the hardships, I have never felt alone because I am blessed with the support of an exceptional CASA team and a wonderful, patient, and knowledgeable Coordinator. We walked along this new path, learning the twists and turns together.
Remember that straight, sunlit path that welcomed me to my CASA journey? COVID has forced a reevaluation of my life’s purpose, and I was led into new shifts of direction along the path I was walking. My love of volunteering has never wavered. I remind myself that I am making a difference. In the Fall of 2021, an opportunity was presented to transition from CASA Volunteer to CASA Staff. Yet I paused. Much of my time has been devoted to supporting my children and aging parents; I had to really think about accepting a position after twenty years away from the workplace. The big hesitation? As a Volunteer, I advocated for my two girls in HOPE Court, and I was unwilling to walk away from these relationships. I wondered if I could be both a Volunteer and Coordinator? As a Coordinator, I wouldn’t have direct contact with children and families. Yet I understood that I could impact many more children by guiding and supporting multiple volunteers. Upon reflection, I accepted the position and started walking a new path.
Together, my Volunteers and I find answers and solutions. We plant seeds in the lives of children in the hope that one day they will remember the CASA who advocated for their best interest and will grow into adults who will plant seeds of hope in others.
I am reminded of a recent walk along the beach as I write this blog. There, I noticed flowers growing from a fallen tree. Among the driftwood from hurricane damage, life emerged in an unusual place. As a Volunteer and now as a Coordinator, my goal is to scatter seeds of hope in children’s lives, our community, and other Volunteers’ lives.
I am an advocate for CASA. I plant seeds because you never know where a flower may bloom.
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