Pro Bono for Children: Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA)

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“The thing I’m thankful for most about my CASA volunteer is that she keeps her promises to me, when so many other people don’t.

Dear friends of the Contra Costa County Bar Association, this holiday season, we are thankful for all the people who have helped Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) make a difference in a child’s life.

For 32 years, our CASA volunteers have been keeping their promise to the abused and neglected children they serve in Contra Costa County, and their commitment enables these vulnerable children access to desperately needed health, therapeutic and educational services.

CASA’s mission is to recruit, train and support community volunteers who advocate for the most vulnerable children who are victims of abuse or neglect. CASA volunteers prevent them from becoming lost in an overburdened legal and child welfare system. Most importantly, CASA volunteers help them so they can become healthy, contributing members of the community, instead of crime statistics. Our volunteers make real the hope that one person can make a difference.

Below is “Natalie’s Story” as told by her CASA volunteer, Gina. Her story highlights the despair that many children face in foster care and the crucial role a CASA volunteer plays in turning this despair around and finding them a safe, permanent home while advocating for their best interest.

I met Natalie in March 2004. She was nine years old and living in a therapeutic group home for emotionally disturbed children. She greeted me with a smile, and while she was excited to meet me, she gave me only occasional eye contact. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but Natalie looked like your typical nine year old—adorable, with a few teeth missing in front, reminding me of the sweet innocence of childhood. I momentarily forgot that she was a child who had experienced an enormous amount of trauma and rejection.

Natalie would later comment, “I had lost my family and everything that was familiar to me at age five. By age seven I was moved to a group home with other children who like me, were angry, confused and depressed. I was alone and far away from those that I loved.”  

As I began to advocate for Natalie it became abundantly clear she was extremely intelligent, athletic, artistic, and had one unchanging desire … to be a part of, and loved by, a family. My initial role as a CASA volunteer was to make sure that she had access to vital health, therapeutic, and educational services. However, I also found myself in the role of cheerleader, confidant, and at times, a source of unsolicited motherly advice to a child who was virtually alone in life’s journey.

Despite the positive benefits of being in the CASA program, Natalie was beginning to lose hope of ever being adopted. She was now 11, and could not understand why she was still at the group home and not with a foster family. These feelings led to renewed anger, and then depression. As her CASA [volunteer], I provided guidance, support, and made sure she knew that I would be there for her during these difficult times.

Approximately one year later, hope reappeared for Natalie. A family inquired about her. It was a joyous day indeed because this was not just any foster family, but a family that wanted to adopt Natalie.

Natalie was reborn the day she moved in with this family. I noticed amazing changes in her disposition, confidence, and personality almost immediately. With each visit, I saw Natalie bloom into an empathetic, loving, polite, caring, and mature teenager. The awakening of her inner beauty was astounding.

I worked diligently with all parties involved to assist in the adoption process. Joining a family and opening up her heart to trust and love again was both exciting and emotionally challenging for Natalie. The power of a loving and stable family triumphed and Natalie was adopted.

Today Natalie is 18. She graduated from high school this past spring with a 3.6 grade point average and has begun her freshman year at a California State University. Before leaving for college, I was fortunate to spend some time with Natalie and to hear her say:

“As I look back at those painful years I realize there were a few people in my life who were instrumental in shaping my future. Among those few individuals who showed me unconditional love, hope, and taught me by example right from wrong was you, my CASA volunteer. I wish that every child in foster care could have the gift of hope, a CASA volunteer!”

I’m honored to have been Natalie’s CASA volunteer for five years. I’m so pleased that Natalie’s dream came to fruition, and she is now part of that loving family she has always desired. Her future is bright and she has and will continue to make her family proud. 

Reading inspiring stories like Natalie’s is why we are committed to “keeping our promise” to the children we serve. By maintaining critical access to health, educational and therapeutic services to the children we serve, our CASA volunteers are “the difference” in the direction these children’s lives take: Moving them away from the cycle of abuse and neglect to a life filled with hope.

CASA volunteers are not attorneys, but rather they’re citizen advocates. They’re ordinary people from various walks of life who do extraordinary things in the lives of abused and neglected children in our community. Last year, our CASA volunteer advocates provided over 17,000 hours of service to their children. No other children’s service organization in the county uses volunteers in such a unique and powerful way.

Join us in helping to “keep our promise” to the children we serve, and support CASA today, for a lifetime of positive returns. Please visit our website at www.cccocasa.org to learn more about becoming a CASA volunteer or to donate.

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