Oct 08 2018
by Sara Blake
Chukwuma Ogidi, or Chu for short, is one of seven boys. Born and raised here in Austin, his mother is from Chicago and his father is from Nigeria, where Chu still has a number of aunts, uncles and cousins. Chu defines family as "a gathering of people. Whoever is in the vicinity is honorary family; my community is my family too."
Chu began working at the age of 16 as a baker for HEB. "I tell people that I can make bread, but only in quantities for 150 people or more!" he laughs. Chu credits this first employment for teaching him how to succeed professionally. His next job at a bank took him all the way through college at the University of Texas at San Antonio, where he studied Business Administration. By the time he graduated, he was a supervisor handling executive level disputes. This opened the door to a career in the world of insurance, where Chu still works today at a Chicago-based startup called Snapstreet. "A lot of the people I deal with live very comfortable lives. A car wreck can be the worst thing to happen to them in a decade," Chu explains. "But managing these emergency situations and being able to solve problems is rewarding, as is the client's gratitude once the situation is resolved."
Interacting with so many people over the course of his career has given Chu helpful experience when it comes to being a CASA volunteer. "It contributed to me wanting to understand both other people and myself."
Chu's empathy for others motivated him to find a way to be more involved in the Austin community. An avid cat lover, Chu is working on becoming a certified foster home for kittens. And Chu isn't the only Ogidi who finds ways to give back—service work runs in the family. Chu's younger brother Ethan works in an emergency shelter, and Ethan's twin, Adam, works for AmeriCorps and is responsible for referring Chu to CASA. Both brothers have been a resource to Chu since beginning his work with CASA.
After completing CASA's volunteer training, Chu became an advocate in April of this year. "After training, anytime I had a negative interaction with someone, I found myself coming from a place of 'I wonder,' I wonder what they're going through to elicit that response. It's put me in a position of seeking to understand, rather than drawing my own conclusions."
Chu's first case is with a teenager, and he describes it as "a lot of planning and a lot of pivoting. Ultimately, it's rewarding just knowing I've been able to be there for the kid. We've built a rapport now; there's a mutual respect. I'm happy to be a positioning anchor for a kid that's going through a troubling time in his life."
Chu believes that a CASA volunteer plays a unique part in the host of other figures (attorneys, CPS, etc.) entering and leaving the child's life during this chaotic time. "Coming in as a child advocate gives them the comfort of knowing that someone is there solely for their best interest. We can model what a good relationship looks like. There's a good chance the events that led them here involve adults who are not modeling that," explains Chu. "Even if it's just one person that helps a kid set proper boundaries, models a good introduction and goodbye, it shows the child that they can find positive things in this 'new normal'. It's about being that ray of sunshine in a kid's life."
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