Written by Susan Miller
After I decided on an early retirement, I quickly realized I had plenty more to do (and give) — time, energy, and a desire to help others. I searched for volunteer opportunities online, and found VolunteerMatch. After completing my profile, I was matched with CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) of Jackson County.
In case you aren’t familiar, CASA is a 501(c)3 nonprofit whose mission is to support and promote court-appointed advocates for abused or neglected children. Their goal is to provide children with a safe and healthy environment in permanent homes.
A CASA’s role is to represent a child’s voice in court. Each CASA gathers information about an appointed case by meeting with the child and relevant adults: teachers, parents, foster parents, physicians, etc. CASAs then listen and identify the child’s needs and make recommendations to the court judge based on them.
Ultimately, CASAs work hard to advocate for the child’s placement and ongoing care in a safe home with recommended programs based on the child’s needs—like educational plans or medical care. CASAs also work with a Department of Human Services (DHS) caseworker to coordinate care and placement.
In order to become a CASA, I was required to complete 40 hours of training. After a rigorous background check, I was sworn in by a judge. Becoming a CASA doesn’t necessarily require a tremendous amount of time—many CASAs work full-time, and plenty volunteer through spousal teams—working together to make a difference.
After my application was approved, I started on two cases.
At first, I was a little apprehensive. Would I ask the wrong questions? Are children going to relate to me? Would parents/ foster parents welcome my help? Although I had excellent training, I had never been placed in a situation (or role) this important. Honestly, I was pretty anxious. To my surprise, I quickly established rapport with my assigned children and families.
Many forget: these children have seen or experienced violence or neglect. I found that simply coordinating medical care or just spending time with them has the power to make a tremendous difference. I’ve had so much fun with these kids—riding bikes, going for walks, teaching them how to swim, or participating in epic water balloon fights—you name it.
I hope these memories will endure for them as they will for me. With all this fun, sometimes it’s hard for me to believe that I’m volunteering for a greater purpose.
Beyond having fun, there have been serious issues I’ve addressed: coordinating supervised contact with an incarcerated parent, drafting safety plans, working with teachers on educational plans, and/or addressing health problems.
For example, one of my CASA kids had multiple health issues that hadn’t been addressed before his case. I was able to research the issue, consult with a doctor on treatment options, and coordinate the appropriate surgeries. I have been attending his checkups with him ever since.
CASAs of Jackson County have an outstanding reputation, and the judges really respect our opinions and advice. A stellar administrative team and a peer support group support CASAs.
I am struck by the reality that these children were simply born into (or raised in) circumstances that were completely beyond their control. Through no fault of their own, they found themselves at risk, having been neglected, abandoned, or even physically or emotionally abused.
They are paying the price for someone else’s choices. And their needs are greatest. To spend my retirement playing a positive role in a child’s life feels substantive, to say the least.
The late Muhammad Ali once said, “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth.” VolunteerMatch paired me with this wonderful organization, and I am incredibly grateful for it. Being a CASA and helping these children is so gratifying and powerful that I feel like I’ve paid rent on a penthouse!
Thank you, Susan, for sharing your story! Do you have a volunteer experience to share? Tell us about it!