Think for a moment what it is like for a youth who loses home and family because of abuse or neglect. Imagine what it is like to navigate "the system." Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) are caring volunteers who stay with a child throughout this challenging time and help them make sense of the process. Cheryl Clark has been a volunteer with CASA for 4 years. She shares her experience in today's column:
I started working with Lexy (not her real name) at the age of 16, in the midst of those troubled teen years. I was scared, and so was she. After having many chats with her, researching information with her, her family members, teachers, doctors, and friends, I got to know her better and better each day. I was determined to gain her trust, and to make sure she was first and foremost safe. We worked on helping her speak up for herself; to express her feelings about her life, what she wanted, and to feel confident about her decisions. I encouraged her to love herself, helped her to speak up with her case worker and doctors, and feel comfortable about having the ability to do so. I helped Lexy get her first job. We discussed so many things about her life, her friends, her family, her brother. We cried, we laughed, we disagreed, and we agreed! We learned from each other.
One day after many meetings with her I got my first Valentine. She said, "my life has been a nightmare, but then I met you and you made me feel worthy, you helped me find my voice." Then life took on a whole new meaning, not just for Lexy, but for both of us!
Lexy spent many fragile days in about 6 placements. Each placement had both good and bad times, but through it all she learned so much. She went through a few school districts, but most important, she graduated and stood up there proud! She worked with her caseworker to speak to other kids about her life. She was so eager to share what she had learned.
After all of the long meetings, the intense court reports, the hearings, the special meetings, the intense research, watching the Judge read the reports, waiting for the rulings, I have only one thing to say: Every single minute I spent with Lexy, and all of the people involved, was absolutely worth every single moment. She not only learned to depend on herself, but she is learning to love herself and to rise above her past; trying to love what is in her future. Lexy and I remain very close and will for many years to come.
Being a CASA volunteer has exceeded my expectations far more than I ever expected. To get a child to a safe place and to help them find their voice in life is so very priceless, along with, most of all, helping a child lead a somewhat normal life against the odds.
If you're interested in learning more about this topic, Family Services and Warren First United Methodist Church are sponsoring another free workshop entitled: "So you want to learn about CASA of Warren County?" This will be conducted by Lisa Thompson on Monday, March 14, from 6-7 p.m. at First United Methodist Church.
Ian Eastman, M.A., is a community educator with Family Services of Warren County-a charitable agency that provides counseling, substance abuse services, and support groups.