By Sara Blake
"When I was told about my first case, I was a little scared. I asked my supervisor, 'Why did you pick me for this? I'm new!' I'll always remember her answer: 'CASA believes you have what it takes for this case. You are going to be a role model to a young man who has never had one.'
Juan Carrero has been a CASA volunteer for less than a year but has already seen the impact of his presence in the life of the teenage boy on his case. A big part of that is that Juan speaks Spanish and is able to communicate not only with the teenager but his mother as well, who speaks only Spanish.
"From his perspective, I think it's been good for him to listen to me in Spanish. Just hearing about regular life in Spanish. Sometimes he asks questions, which is good," says Juan.
A shared language has allowed Juan and the young man to connect on a deeper level. "We've had conversations about the past. He was exposed to American culture in a brutal way. He had to learn how to survive. He knows I know what he has gone through," Juan explains. "One of our patterns is that he shares his good memories with me. I ask him to share things from his past so I can learn more about him, and he always does."
"I know I'm doing something good. But I wish I could do more."
Juan feels that his experience on his case so far has been both challenging and rewarding. "I try to bring him things to make him think, whether it's activities, or asking him questions about where he's going and what he wants out of life. I know I'm doing something good. But I wish I could do more."
Originally from Colombia, Juan credits his parents for teaching him and his brother the important things in life, especially when it came to higher education. "My parents started with nothing. My mother always said, 'One of us has to progress in this world.' So she pushed my father to study because, at that time, there wasn't really a place for women to study," Juan remembers. "She pushed us to go to school as well. My parents didn't have a lot of material things, just the basics. But they gave us a good environment to grow up in. All they could really do was push us to get an education—first high school, then college."
Juan attended Universidad Piloto de Colombia and studied Computer Science Engineering before moving his family to Chicago. "What moved me to the U.S. was a desire to explore more of life and my career," says Juan. "I came alone at first for a year, before my wife and young daughter joined me."
Two decades later, with a daughter and son in their twenties who are finishing college, Juan and his wife of 28 years decided it was time for a change. "We both wanted somewhere warmer," laughs Juan. "After 20 Chicago winters, we started looking for a new place, and destiny brought us to Austin 3 years ago."
Juan and his family enjoy traveling, especially road trips. Another of their favorite pastimes is going to the movies together. "And we like to dance," says Juan, "specifically Latin dances at family reunions!"
"It makes us understand suffering to some extent. And it has taught us how to be gentle and help other people."
In honor of National Hispanic Heritage month, Juan wanted to share with our readers a little bit about Latin American culture. "I've had the opportunity to travel to many South American countries. Many Latin American countries have similar cultures. Some are economically powerful; some are not. But many of us are coming from corrupt systems. The people of the countries are suffering and impoverished, and there's a lot of injustice. So, we as a people, we have to live with those circumstances. It makes us understand suffering to some extent. And it has taught us how to be gentle and help other people."
One of the reasons Juan decided to volunteer with CASA is that he and his family are passionate about their community and want to make a difference. "We try to be community people, and we want to help. We want to do something for somebody else. It brings us satisfaction to not just think of ourselves. Giving our children the example of giving back, because there is always someone who needs a hand up."
Featured Volunteer Story 2019 Volunteer Profiles September