A Volunteer's Story

 

My Girls

I recently attended a graduation party. Nothing unusual in that, but this was special because it was a party for an exceptional young lady whom I’ve come to know over the past four years because I am a CASA. I advocated for her and her two younger sisters who were in the foster care system. Their case is closed now. These girls, now, 18, 14, and 13, are living lives they couldn’t even have dreamed about four years ago. They have futures that hold genuine possibilities. They were victims of biological parents who had little interest in and no ability to parent. Both are now in prison. The girls lived in several foster homes that did not enhance their well being, however well intentioned the foster parents may have been. In one environment, the children were little more than unpaid staff. The major achievement of these placements was that “my girls,” as I came to think of them, were still together. Well, now thanks to a terrific team of a DCFS caseworker, therapists, a CASA (me!), and loving guardians, these girls can really live, not just exist. They now have a real home, and parents that they are happy to call “Mom and Dad.” I cannot communicate to you how wonderful it is to know that I have helped make this happen. As a Christian, I believe that I am required to serve others, and to show God’s love. Through the years, I have found it easy to write checks and to salve my social conscience, but I’ve come to realize that simply writing a check is not enough. Besides, it’s great fun to actually know that person you’re helping, and it’s amazing to actually see the positive impact you’ve had on another person’s life.

-Champaign County CASA advocate

 

We have been blessed

In the spring of 2004 my youngest son graduated from high school.  I was wondering what am I going to do with all this time on my hands, no football, no baseball, no school stuff, and I knew I needed something to fill that void… then in the fall a newspaper article about CASA ran and as they say, the rest is history.  That history includes participating in the training that ended in February of 2005 and taking my first case 3 weeks later.  Within a year of my becoming a CASA, my husband, Gale Kirkpatrick went through the training as well and has been a co-CASA on this case with me.  I am also very fortunate that I work for a small company that believes giving back to the community is something to be applauded and supported.  Along with the advocate responsibilities I have also had the great pleasure of assisting and facilitating training sessions for CASA in the past.  There’s nothing more rewarding then seeing a new group of people grab the bull by the horns and become amazing CASA’s.

Sometimes I am afraid to talk about my case to new or potential CASA advocates as it is not your usual case pertaining to its length and its dynamics.  I met him on his 6th birthday; he turned 13 earlier this year.  Yes… 7 years… 1 case.  He spent the first 6 years in residential placements in the Chicago land area.  In the past year he has stepped down to specialized foster care, but is struggling and the last few months have been extremely trying for him and for us.  I feel like I’ve been beating my head against a brick wall since the 1st of the year due to differences of opinion as to what is in his “best interest.”  But this is where you really understand the value of CASA’s – you see how your involvement can make a difference.  You continue to listen, to document, to advocate, and most importantly to pursue what you know “best interest” means for that child.  I sometimes wonder where he would be if he was one of the unfortunate children who don’t have their own CASA.

Being a CASA has taught me a lot of things, some that I would rather have not learned and some I wouldn’t have missed for the worked.  I never knew how naïve I was until I started reading case files.  This work is heartbreaking, frustrating and extremely rewarding.  The first time your child smiles at you, the first time they trust you enough to share what is troubling them, the first time they say thank you or hug you… you know it has all been worth it.  When people learn how long we’ve been advocating for him they say how luck he is to have us… but they’ve got it wrong… we are the ones who have been blessed to be a part of his life.

-Sue Kirkpatirck, Champaign County CASA advocate