By Sara Blake
“A lot of the happiest families/best situations have nothing to do with where people are economically,” says CASA volunteer Keith Finley. “A lot of very loving households that may have economic challenges still have a supportive, happy, thriving environment.”
Keith has been a volunteer with CASA for the last two years. Most of his work has been on the Early Family Engagement team, where he has worked with infants all the way up to teenagers. Early Family Engagement (EFE) volunteers focus on ensuring that children remain connected to their families from the earliest stage of a Child Protective Services (CPS) case. This short-term, fast-paced role conducts initial visits and assessments with children, their caregivers, their parents, and other relatives, to represent CASA at the first case hearing.
A lot of very loving households that may have economic challenges still have a supportive, happy, thriving environment.
Keith first became interested in volunteering with CASA when they came to present at his company’s (IBM) volunteer day: “At the time I traveled too much to be able to commit, but I had it in mind for over 10 years.”
Originally from the New England area, Keith attended Clarkson University and studied Industrial Engineering and Management. He went on to the University of Miami where he received a Masters degree in Computer Information Systems. In 1996, Keith moved to Austin with IBM and was with them for 35 years before his current job with the state.
Today, Keith and his wife spend their time volunteering with Austin Pets Alive and occasionally fostering pets in need of a home. They also love to hike and take cooking classes together. “Baking bread has been my favorite lately,” shares Keith.
There’s really no other party on these cases that has the ability to only focus on just one family at a time.
After leaving IBM, Keith decided to dedicate more of his time to volunteer work in the community. He was especially interested in giving back on a family level. “There’s really no other party on these cases that has the ability to only focus on just one family at a time. Every case is so different, so often it’s about identifying the resources and needs that this unique family could use help with.”
“When I first started, I was nervous about asking direct questions to the family,” says Keith. “With EFE work, we are there at the beginning of a case, and can be some of the first people a family meets after CPS. I have to be straightforward about why we are there and what our role is. CASA has taught me how to be direct with the family as well as compassionate.”
I can almost be overly logical, but that can be helpful on a case when it can easily be an emotional environment.
One of Keith’s self-professed strengths (both on a case and off) is his tendency to be rational and logical rather than emotional. “I can almost be overly logical, but that can be helpful on a case when it can easily be an emotional environment.”
Keith is also passionate about finding ways to get people from different backgrounds to work together for a common goal. “When I worked for IBM, I spent time in Brazil and India setting up support centers. I had to learn how to meld teams together and teach people to think about the unique perspectives of their team members, who often came from different economic or cultural groups. Considering others in your decision-making helps develop compassion. That mindset works in business, it works in the child welfare system, and it works in life in general.”
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2020 Featured Volunteer Story Volunteer Profiles April