An Accidental Volunteer Info Session

May 19 2016

An Accidental Volunteer Info Session

By Steven Olender

When Nancy Pollard shared an article on her Facebook page, she had no idea it would lead to her hosting an accidental CASA info session. The article, about how a girl in the Dallas child welfare system died after CPS caseworkers failed to follow up on abuse allegations, was originally sent to her by a friend. "Now that I'm a CASA volunteer, people just keep sending me these things,” said Nancy.

Nancy rarely reposts the articles she is sent by friends and family because she doesn't want to share tragedy just for the sake of reveling in the tragedy. Something about this was different though. "This is horrible, but you can't just write this off as an unfixable problem," she said. "There are lots of things each of us can do to chip away at it." In her post, she gave options. She offered that people could lobby for children who have been abused or donate to worthy causes. She gave a list of agencies through which people could become foster parents. Finally, she said they could become CASA volunteers like her.

Something about this post struck a nerve with Nancy's friends and soon her post was flooded with comments asking her to meet up and discuss becoming a CASA volunteer. Eventually, a friend pointed out that there was no way she could meet individually with that many people and suggested that she hold an event at her house. Immediately, people commented that they wanted to come.

Nancy was resigning herself to the idea of having dozens of people in her home when Patricia Tamminga, a friend and fellow CASA volunteer who owns the kid and adult cooking school, Patricia's Table, chimed in with an offer to host. The two set a date and sent out an invite to the forty or so people who had commented on Facebook saying they wanted to attend. About twenty were able to make it.

In addition to Nancy and Patricia speaking about what it is like to be a CASA volunteer, a friend who just finished training came to speak about her experience. Kristina Baehr, a CASA of Travis County board member and a friend of Nancy's from college, spoke about child abuse statistics and gave an overview of the system. Over desserts that Patricia made, the attendees also heard from a legislative aide about lobbying and from a foster and adoptive parent about her experience.

Hearing the stories and the impact that the CASA volunteers made (without sharing anything confidential, of course) brought things close to home for the guests. One of the most impactful moments of the night came from the foster mom, who explained that, as a foster parent, she had no voice in court. She told the crowd about her relationship with their CASA volunteer and how they rely on her to represent what the child needs.

The personal nature of the accidental info session made guests feel comfortable. People who might have been embarrassed asking questions in front of strangers weren't embarrassed at all among friends. On top of this, these friends know how busy Nancy is, which made the time commitment seem more manageable. She remembers a friend saying, "I figured I didn't have time for this but the way you are saying this makes it seem like I could figure out how to do what you are doing."

In the end, several friends left feeling committed to volunteering with CASA and others left committed to helping in other ways, but the evening gave everyone something to think about. Hearing about this problem and the things they could do to help solve it from someone they know, someone they trust, made it that much easier to connect to the mission.

Nancy is still having lunches and coffee meetings with friends who couldn't make it to the accidental info session. Even though it sometimes takes more time than she feels she has, she's committed to talking with her friends about child abuse. "People need to know about this," she says. "Not because it's so awful, but because there are things that you can do."

If you are interested in hosting your own event for friends and family, contact Volunteer Recruitment Manager Cruz Correa at cruz.correa@casatravis.org