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CASA Corner: CASA is a great way to make a positive impact on a child’s life

Mark ACRI
Special to the Tribune

My life as a CASA volunteer began abruptly. My wife, Sherri, and I were observing the dependency court proceedings as part of our CASA training. A friend of ours, already a CASA, was in court that day as her case was on the calendar. As a result of the proceedings that morning in her case, three teenage boys suddenly needed a new CASA, as she became their foster parent. Judge Kingsbury looked at us in the gallery and asked something along the lines of, “well, you two, are you willing to be assigned as the new CASAs for these boys?” Gulp! Yikes! With major butterflies in our stomachs, we simultaneously said, ”Yes!”

Now this is not typically how CASA workers are assigned cases. But nonetheless, we embarked on that sometimes scary, but all the time meaningful, sojourn of being CASA workers.

What brought us to this point? Why had we become CASAs? I think Sherri and I both basically had the same reasons for becoming CASAs, and we both worked this case together but, for the sake of this article, I will use just my personal perspective and reasoning.

Here I was taking time out of my life to involve myself in the intimate details of other people’s turbulent lives. I was obligating myself to report to the court an objective description of what I observed in the lives of these boys and their family and then render an opinion of what I thought should happen. Serious stuff! Why get involved? The question could be asked of any volunteer. Why? It is an interesting question.

Do we volunteer out of a selfless desire to help our fellow human beings? I never thought of myself as being that noble. Or do we volunteer to make ourselves feel better because we have been given so much in this life and we feel obligated to help our fellow man? In truth, I think it is a combination of the both. Bob Buford, in his book “Half-Time, From Success to Significance,” labeled it “Altruistic Egoism.” Altruism is being concerned for others, and egoism is being concerned about oneself. By practicing altruism, we are feeding a need of our ego to be significant. I felt I needed some “altruistic egoism” in my life and began looking for ways to do it. Being a guy, and an impatient one at that, I was looking for an opportunity to volunteer where I could immediately and significantly make someone’s life better. That’s what brought me to CASA.

CASA helps kids during a particularly difficult time in their lives. By no fault of their own, they are thrust into the dependency court system. It is scary, confusing and frustrating. Often, their living situation is considered unacceptable because of a parent’s abuse of drugs and/or alcohol, leading to the abuse or neglect of the child. Children may be removed from the home, and although they have new people in their lives law enforcement, social workers, attorneys and judges they can feel very alone. This is where a CASA comes in. And believe me, if you want to make an immediate and significant impact in making a child’s life better, there is no better way.

The cases I had involved teenage boys. Boys truly need a stable male role model in their lives. Sometimes simply spending time with them fulfills that role. That role might also include meetings with teachers and counselors, visiting their homes and meeting the parents. I have helped with homework, taken them to school and gone shopping with them for much-needed clothes or school supplies. I tried to answer questions about what was happening and helped them to understand why things are as they are. Most importantly, I provided a consistent, stable person in their lives that they could depend on.

As for significant impact, a CASA realizes that when you are in court and the judge holds up the report you have written and says: “I have read the CASA report and he says …” Yikes! You know not everyone in the courtroom is going to agree with what you said, but you do know that the court depends heavily on your opinion. It doesn’t get much more immediate or significant then that!

There is a real need for male CASA volunteers. The ladies have stepped up to the plate big time and have done wonders. It is time for more guys to do the same. You can start right now by calling Amanda or Alexis at our South Lake Tahoe office of CASA El Dorado, 573-3072, and get the details of the next CASA training, which takes place from April 3 to May 8. Training will be held on consecutive Tuesdays from 9 a.m. – noon at the South Lake Tahoe Courthouse.

– CASA, Court Appointed Special Advocates, is a part of CASA El Dorado, advocating for children in El Dorado county since 1992 and in South Lake Tahoe since 1994. For additional information, call 530-573-3072 to contact our local office in South Lake Tahoe, or 530-622-9882 to contact our administrative offices in Placerville. You can also visit us online at http://www.casaeldorado.org.


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