Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Lift up a Life.

Dear CASA Supporters,

As we wrap up 2014, I am asking for your time to read the true story below. It illustrates how a CASA volunteer can change the life of an abused or neglected child. Won't you donate now to help an abused child in San Luis Obispo County?

Linda and David:

A CASA Story 

She pulled to the side of a two-way road in her rusty old Porsche. “Now’s the time. If I can teach a nun to drive, I can teach you.” He gave it a try, other cars honked, and they both thought better of it. David would have to learn how to drive another time.
David laughs when recalling this impromptu driving lesson with Linda, his CASA Volunteer Advocate for over two years. Linda was the first stable adult in David’s life and that memory can still make him smile about a childhood marked with substance abuse, homelessness, and chaos.

42% of children in SLO County’s foster care system come from drug and/or
alcohol dependent homes.

David’s mother and brother were addicted to drugs and alcohol and it was common for both to be under the influence. While homeless and sleeping on a bike trail, David called his biological father who was staying in a halfway house and could not accommodate him. Around this time he realized he could not live with either of his biological parents, and also parted ways with his brother who later ended up behind bars.     

You may know a child like David. You’ve passed him on the street —he’s gone to school with your children and grandchildren. You probably didn’t know he was missing school because he was without adequate shelter and parenting.

After spending time at a local church, David saw a different way of life and, longing for change, went to a local shelter and asked to be placed in foster care. Taken aback, the staff insisted on meeting his mother who came to the first meeting intoxicated and missed several appointments thereafter. David got his way; he entered the foster care system and became a dependent of the court.

He arrived at his first placement to the find locks on all of the cabinets. Two years behind in school, taking seven classes a day and two at night to catch up, he remembers thinking “I don’t have time to steal your stuff.” His stay was temporary but it was there where he forged a life changing connection with his CASA volunteer.

A CASA volunteer is often the only stable adult
in a foster child’s life.

Linda — head of long, white hair, larger woman, tall, wide, loud, full of life — very nice.” If David has vivid memories of his CASA volunteer it’s because she was the first  stable adult in his life who was not paid to support him, and in his words was a “true friend.” David admits that at first he was skeptical and especially distrustful of women, but Linda proved herself by consistently showing up.                              
He reflects now:
“Linda was always there when I needed her. She made it very clear early on that it did not matter what time of day or night, I just had to call her and she would be there. She helped me by listening to the troubles or doubts I was feeling and, when necessary, helped me verbalize those to the appropriate individuals so a change could take place." David was in and out of the homeless shelter four or five times and changed placements often. He shares his CASA volunteer’s role during this unstable time: “She would be the first to respond when I needed a ride out of a bad placement. She would  always show up ready to help me move and didn't try to convince me to staysomewhere I didn't feel safe or comfortable.”
 CASA volunteers receive training from legal, child development
    and welfare professionals, and have Advocate Supervisors to advise them on all aspects of their cases.

You know someone like Linda. You’ve seen her at your book club, maybe she taught your children — or perhaps  you know her from the grocery store. She is a CASA volunteer — a carefully screened, trained, and supervised member of your community who commits 12- 15 hours a month to her case. She connects with David, investigates his situation, and makes recommendations to the court on his behalf. She has an Advocate Supervisor who helps her navigate the system and is always there for her- much like Linda is there for David.

David remembers Linda, the retired English teacher, for her blunt style and high standards. “She’d say ‘a B is good but why  didn’t you get the A?’ She knew I could do better. She knew I wanted the  A . . .she would drive me to and from opposite ends of the county two or three times a week when I had night classes during high school. She never requested any help or thanks; she was just glad she could be a positive influence in my life and help me achieve a higher education."
                          Independent research shows that children with CASA volunteers do better in school.

David, at one time two years behind in school, graduated from high school with honors and went on to earn a B.A. in Psychology. He eventually moved in with a close friend’s family who remain his family today, and he kept contact with Linda until she passed away when he was in junior college. David is now happily married with a successful career.

How many “Davids” might there be in SLO County? Coping with drug and alcohol addicted parents, homeless,sleeping on bike trails, unable to live up to their potential? How many “Lindas” are in our community, ready to commit their time and open their hearts? Your donation funds the recruitment, training, supervision and support of volunteers like Linda, ensuring that more children like David can receive the gift of a CASA. A donation of $2,200 supports advocacy for one child for one year. This holiday season, consider giving another abused or neglected child a voice. Any size gift helps, and you can make a tax deductible donation by clicking the DONATE NOW link below. 

On behalf of CASA and the children we serve, please accept our wishes for a wonderful holiday season and happy new year.

With gratitude,


Teresa Tardiff
Executive Director

Friday, April 11, 2014

National Volunteer Week 2014, Volunteer Spotlight: Meet Marcia!

“Some days we volunteers are tired and overwhelmed with our own lives. However, the first time your youth searches for you in a crowd and he lights up when he sees you, you are hooked.”
Marcia is a retired Special Education teacher and has been volunteering as a child advocate for 2 years.
What are some of your favorite parts about volunteering? My favorite part about volunteering is the relationship I have developed with my youth. After two years I have become a consistent presence in this young person’s life. During our time together this young man has been placed in different foster care settings as well as spending time with his biological family.  He views me as a stable friend, inviting me to performances, games and birthday parties.  I am honored to be part of his busy life.
What it is like working with your CASA youth? My CASA youth and I have fun together.  We spend a good deal of time laughing.  He shares his accomplishments with me, and he makes me very proud of the person he has become.
What are some activities you have done with your CASA youth? We try to make our time together an adventure. We have been Geo-caching and beach walking.  Occasionally we will find ourselves sitting on the edge of our chairs at an action movie. Our favorite activity is searching for the perfect burrito and we have found some amazing Mexican restaurants in this county.
Why is connecting with your CASA youth important? I enjoy spending time with my youth and I think he sees me as a safe person to talk to about issues in his life.  He will ask for advice in solving problems and I enjoy being able to support him.
What have you learned during your time at CASA? I have learned to slow down and listen.  I have learned to ask my youth “how do you feel about that?” I have also learned that spending time together is a gift and I am very grateful to CASA for assigning me this awesome young man.
Why do you volunteer for CASA? The reason I volunteer for CASA is complicated. Initially I volunteered because I had lost my oldest daughter and I wanted to honor her memory by helping others. She had been such a kind, giving person and she would have loved being a CASA volunteer. However, as the years have progressed, I now know that I volunteer for myself as well as for my daughter.  It is truly a gift to spend time with a young person and feel that you have made a difference in his or her life.
What would you tell someone who is interested in volunteering for CASA but hasn’t taken the plunge? I would tell that person that it isn’t always easy being a CASA volunteer and initially it feels a bit like a job. You don’t always want to take a walk, or play a game.  Some days we volunteers are tired and overwhelmed with our own lives.  However, the first time your youth searches for you in a crowd and he lights up when he sees you, you are hooked. Volunteers have the potential to make an enormous difference in a child’s life.  After spending time with your young person you will just feel pretty darn good about yourself.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

National Volunteer Week 2014, Volunteer Spotlight: Meet Adrienne!

“I volunteer for CASA because I love children and know that what I do in recruiting and preparing a trainee for advocacy or mentorship has a direct effect on the life of a CASA child.”

Adrienne has volunteered for CASA of SLO for 7 years, and is one of three ladies who work at the Recruitment Desk.

What do you do during a typical shift? On a typical shift I deal with responding to new people who have contacted CASA for information on becoming an Advocate or Mentor, and also give them information about our training classes. If they show a desire to pursue advocacy or mentoring, send us a completed application form and want to take a training class, I set up an interview for them and begin their background checks. If we have a training class in session I deal with the myriad of background checks and clearances needed for the trainee, and enter and monitor all of this information into CASA's data tracking system.   

What are some of your favorite things about volunteering? My favorite things about volunteering are the social interaction with the wonderful CASA staff and knowing that what I do makes a big difference in the lives of the CASA kids. I have always wanted to be able to do volunteer work in the community, but in the past was always so busy raising our children and working. Now in retirement, it's so gratifying to be able to be a volunteer.

What have you learned during your time at CASA?
During my time at CASA I have learned a lot about the foster care system and how CASA's work benefits at-risk children in the community. I knew nothing about CASA when I first began volunteering in the office with Patt Fuller who had recruited me to help her, as the workload at the Recruitment Desk was getting too much for her to handle on her own. In the past I had worked a lot in legal offices so all the legalities involved with the background checks and screening of trainees was very interesting to me.

Why do you volunteer for CASA? I volunteer for CASA because I love children and know that what I do in recruiting and preparing a trainee for advocacy or mentorship has a direct effect on the life of a CASA child. I also enjoy working in an office environment, keeping busy, and being a team player.    

Some fun facts: Well, I really can walk and chew gum at the same time! And I must say I do it pretty well! And the person really responsible for my involvement in CASA is my neighbor of 9 years, Linda Prier, who is the Accountant at CASA. When we retired, moved from Los Angeles in 2005 and bought our little retirement house in Los Osos next to Linda & Roger, Linda one day said to me....."Adrienne, you have way too much time on your hands! I know just where you're needed!" .......And the rest is history.    

More fun facts........I met my husband sitting next to him on a plane from Adelaide to Sydney in Australia.......a couple of pick-ups, like a Rock Hudson/Doris Day movie some have said. Also, I admit to having some "blonde moments" sometimes, but isn't that what keeps people interesting? I love lychee martinis -- or martinis of any kind come to think of it!  I love children, animals, nature, and am constantly in awe of the beauty that surrounds me. I feel I have had a blessed life, and that my father who died when I was little has had a hand somehow in guiding me along a safe path.   

Hidden talents:
 I can play the didgeridoo, sort of. I seem to be able to elude traffic cops as somehow I have managed to retain a clean driving record. I can make a mean raspberries & cream trifle, and luscious lemon bars. My secret desire is to be a back-up singer in a band.....I love to sing the blues. I know how to make people smile.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

National Volunteer Week 2014, Volunteer Spotlight: Meet Sue!

  "Sue is an invaluable resource for our office and for all our advocates.  Her knowledge of the way the school system works and especially how special education works has helped many advocates get the best results for their assigned children when working through the IEP process.  Sue shows the same level of care and commitment to her role as Education Specialist in our office as she did when she was working her first case."
~Pete Skarda, Advocate Supervisor

Sue is a retired Special Education teacher and first learned about CASA when a child Advocate attended her parent-teacher meeting. She has been a CASA volunteer for 6 years, first as an Advocate and now as an Education Specialist in the office. Her favorite part about volunteering is working with other volunteers and staff.

What do you do during a typical shift?  How does this fit into CASA as a whole? I support CASAs and staff by supporting them with help regarding educational issues. I create court documents regarding educational rights, advise CASAs on the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) process, attend school meetings with CASAs, present training on educational issues, conduct interviews for the Children Affected by Methamphetamine (CAM) grant, and prepare court documents for Advocate Supervisors.

Why do you volunteer for CASA? I wanted to make a difference by helping children in a different way than I had as a teacher.

What have you learned during your time at CASA? What a positive impact CASA has on children in the foster care system.

To anyone interested in volunteering for CASA, Sue says simply: “You can positively change a child’s life”.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

National Volunteer Week 2014, Volunteer Spotlight: Meet Pam!

“I have the time to volunteer and I feel like it is part of the "social contract": that in response to all I have been given, I give back.”

How long have you volunteered for CASA? I was a CASA for about 3 years, starting in 2004 or so, until I was no longer able to make the time commitment necessary to do a good job.  I spent the next 9 years helping care for my mother in Southern California, which meant I was out of town a lot.  She passed away in 2012 and I was ready to re-enter the volunteer world. The opportunity to share a position at the Recruitment Desk at CASA fell into my lap in April of 2013, so I took it!

In what capacity do you volunteer? I share responsibility with my two wonderful co-volunteers (Marjorie and Adrienne) for staffing the Recruitment Desk. We have two main functions - supporting efforts to fill up the CASA training classes, and screening all those who do volunteer to go through the training.  Obviously, thorough screening is essential to the CASA program and includes fingerprinting and background checks through the FBI, Department of Justice, California Child Abuse Index, the local Sheriff Department, Social Security, etc.  Potential CASAs must also submit proof of their driving record, car insurance; provide personal references which we check, and more.

What do you do in a typical shift?  How does this fit into CASA as a whole?
In a typical shift,  I check the Department of Justice fingerprint website, check e-mails to see if anyone is inquiring about future class training opportunities, send out reference letters, and go through files to make sure that all of the necessary items are in place for each future CASA before they can be sworn in and be assigned a child.  We also attend the first day of training and hand out a lot of forms that need to be signed, make copies of their Driver's Licenses, insurance cards, collect the $75 fee for the class, etc. We then enter that information into their files and into a database called "Tracker".

This recruitment and screening process is vital to making sure that all the children being served by CASA can trust that this very important person in their life is volunteering for the right reason - to help a child.  We obviously need to insure that no pedophiles or anyone with a criminal background (or a bad driving record) is entrusted with a child.  We also schedule interviews for each prospective CASA with two Advocate Supervisors who further screen for issues such as past trauma, boundary issues, mental instability, etc.  Once they have been thoroughly screened, completed the 30 hour training with Cathy Orton et al, and been sworn in, they are assigned an Advocate Supervisor who matches them up with a child or sibling group.

What are your favorite parts about volunteering? I obviously don't work directly with any children, but I like the feeling that I may be making a slight improvement in their difficult lives.  I enjoy interacting with the staff members and feel that they are all top quality.  It is rewarding to be a part of the CASA organization. I also enjoy the feeling that I am accomplishing something each time I come in.

What have you learned during your time at CASA? I have learned how many kids there are who need a helping hand, whose lives look nothing like the life I have been privileged to live.  I have learned that a CASA can change a child's life by giving them someone who is solidly on their side.  I have learned that there are many wonderful people in our community, both CASA staff and volunteers who care passionately about what happens to these kids.

Why do you volunteer? 
I volunteer because I can!  I enjoy a comfortable life, good health, and many other blessings.  I have the time to volunteer and I feel like it is part of the "social contract": that in response to all I have been given, I give back.

What would you tell a prospective volunteer about CASA? There is a wonderful support staff at CASA who will be with you every step of the way.  It doesn't take a specific skill set to be a CASA, just a caring heart and the desire to help a child live up to their potential. The need is great and there are many kids still waiting for a CASA.

Fun Fact or Hidden Talent: 
I love bird watching!

Monday, April 7, 2014

National Volunteer Week 2014, Volunteer Spotlight: Meet Lisa!

“Seeing how strong the human spirit can be is an irreplaceable experience.

Lisa is an Administrative Analyst at the County of San Luis Obispo and has volunteered for CASA of SLO for about a year and a half. She is a volunteer Advocate and Guild Member.

How did you first hear about CASA of SLO?  I am not exactly sure where I first heard about CASA but I think it was at school.  I knew I wanted to get involved in CASA because I have always believed that children need to form a strong sense of self confidence, for the experiences in their young lives will forever shape their character. I think this is what CASA does; it aims to provide a strong sense of self so the child is prepared to take on the world.

What are some of your favorite parts about volunteering?  My favorite part about volunteering as an Advocate is getting the chance to build a friendship with an amazing individual. Seeing how strong the human spirit can be is an irreplaceable experience. I think once a CASA child and Advocate build a relationship both lives will never be the same.

Being a member of the Guild is also very rewarding because you are able to see firsthand how the community, including individuals, businesses, and non-profit organizations can come together to support such an important cause. Being a Guild member allows you to see the best part of humanity.  When you see an event held and all the individuals working together either volunteering their time, money, or support you are able to see the amount of love that humans hold in their hearts for one another and especially the most vulnerable population, the children.

What are some activities you have done with your CASA child? I have done a variety of activities with my CASA child. We have gone to the park and colored and listened to music, gone to ice cream, gone to the beach and looked at the tide pools, driven around to look at lights at Christmas time, made up songs, and even made a 2 year and 5 year plan of goals and aspirations.

What have you learned during your time at CASA?
I have learned that children are resilient. I have seen children going through experiences that are more difficult than I could have ever imagined yet somehow someway children remain positive, grateful, and braver than I could ever be.

What would you tell a friend who is interested in volunteering for CASA but has yet to take the plunge? 
I would say just do it and that there truly is no time but today.  I printed out the volunteer application and had it sitting on my nightstand for a while before I turned it in.  Now I look back and wonder what took me so long. I urge anyone who is interested in volunteering in any capacity to go to an informational meeting or contact the office. I promise it will transform the person you are today.