by Sara Blake
“I don’t do anything. I just stay in relationships with people. The power of that is what surprises me. The power of standing in whatever you find yourself in. Just keep coming back no matter how hard it gets.” says Jen Collins. Jen has been a CASA volunteer for the last three years.
Jen has built her life around people and community. After graduating with her Bachelor’s degree in Nursing from Catholic University in Washington D.C., Jen went on to receive both a Master’s and PhD in Nursing from Baylor University and UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, respectively. Jen credits her nursing background for giving her an edge in understanding the child welfare system, especially when working on cases with medical needs. “My first case had a child who was medically fragile. I needed to understand what that meant in order to understand what was in the best interest for this child,” Jen explains. “But it’s also about responding to requests for the small things, requesting records every week and asking questions. It’s knowing the child really well. I know what happened a year ago. I know what happened at the treatment center. I remember and can tell others.”
Today, Jen works for Texas Tech in both teaching and research positions. Jen’s concentration is in the mental health of young people in foster care, including young adults who have recently aged out. “We really look at their health outcomes and how they can actually achieve health,” says Jen. “Sometimes we focus so much on the placement that we forget to focus on mental health. It just reinforced in me the need to address this, especially from a community approach.” Jen also uses her research to advocate for legislative changes in her community. She is adamant about the need to build bridges within communities in order to see change. “It’s not about me giving people stuff. It’s about me in relationships. Doing my work at CASA, doing my work in the community for advocacy. My job at CASA doesn’t stop outside of this young person.”
Though her career and her community work take up much of her heart and time, Jen regularly sets aside time to travel with her husband. Their trips range from tranquil (a balloon festival in Albuquerque, Benedict’s Monastery in Colorado) to daring (a trip to Maine at 30 degrees below zero, dog sledding in the wilderness). Jen has also been a dancer for the last five years, and takes regular classes at Tapestry Dance. “I dance how I’m living my life in that moment – if I’m living carefully, I dance carefully. If I’m living wildly, it shows in my dance. Rhythm teaches me how to live.”
“My life is like a mosaic,” muses Jen. “Everything is about what I can do for God: loving my husband, my career, my volunteer work. Everything I do is connected.”
Volunteer Profiles April 2018