By Sara Blake
“Spanish was my first language. But when I was growing up in a small town in south Texas, schools were still segregated.” shares CASA volunteer Gloria Rodriguez. “But when I eventually had to transition into an Anglo, or “white” school, we were forced to only speak English. It felt like being robbed of my identity. So, part of me understands how it must feel for these kids who have been robbed of their families and everything familiar to them.”
Before becoming an advocate, Gloria spent more than 30 years as a civilian in local and state law enforcement, specifically in forensics. “I worked on a lot of juvenile drug cases. As the manager of the drug lab, I often had to testify against kids, all while seeing them alone in the courtroom with only a lawyer standing next to them. No emotional support whatsoever,” Gloria recalls. “I knew I wanted to do something to help, and I heard about CASA through a fellow officer who worked closely with CPS.” Gloria had to wait until retirement because of the conflict of interest with her job, but she has now been a CASA volunteer for the last six years.
Once on her first case, Gloria found herself even more aware of just how much resources like money and education matter, particularly in the child welfare system.
Once on her first case, Gloria found herself even more aware of just how much resources like money and education matter, particularly in the child welfare system. “The more money you or your family have, the more resources that are available to you. The more likely it is that you have a friend or family member who can take in your child in a situation like this,” Gloria explains. “And the more education you have, the more knowledge you have to defend yourself and navigate the system; versus someone who doesn’t know what options are available to them or where to turn for support. Not to mention families who are stuck in damaging cycles and only have negative associations with law enforcement.”
"CASA is often the most consistent thing in the lives of these kids. To be there for them, you need people to be there for you. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your supervisors, and to have your own support system in place."
Gloria also highlights the importance of having a support system when doing this kind of work, including building relationships with your supervisor and other advocates. “CASA is often the most consistent thing in the lives of these kids. To be there for them, you need people to be there for you. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your supervisors, and to have your own support system in place,” encourages Gloria.
Gloria’s family has been helpful sources of support to her during her time as a volunteer. Her father and sister both work in school systems and have taught her about effective educational advocacy. And her husband has enabled her to make out-of-state visits whenever necessary, even flying with her sometimes (Gloria made the actual visits alone in accordance with CASA protocol). “My faith and prayer group have also been a huge source of support and encouragement for me,” Gloria shares. “I don’t tell them details, but I’ll ask for prayer for myself or the child on my case. I have a therapist as well, which has been really helpful when it comes to anxiety in my life. We all need emotional and physical support when things get rough.”
In addition to her work with CASA, Gloria has been involved with youth in her church from first grade up to middle and high school. “For the last 25 years, I’ve taught religious education and gone on mission trips and youth conferences with kids. In the last 15 years of teaching, I concentrated on working with teens to help them deal with the normal progression of doubting what they have been taught to believe and how to help them find some answers. This is why I keep doing it.”
"When things were at their bleakest and she couldn’t see tomorrow, I never gave up [on the child in my case].”
As a parent herself, Gloria feels a strong sense of protectiveness and responsibility towards the kids in her life, even when they aren’t her own. “On my case, even when things were at their bleakest and she couldn’t see tomorrow, I never gave up on her,” Gloria states. “It’s the parent in me. I experience things a certain way because I’ve had two children and grandchildren of my own.”
But Gloria emphasizes that every potential advocate has something special to bring to the table. “When I’m talking to younger volunteers, I make sure they realize that they don’t have to be my age or a parent to make a huge difference in a child’s life. For example, younger advocates will have a closer connection in other ways than I do – everyone’s strength is so valid. Your experience is needed because of its uniqueness.”
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