Dec 19 2023

Meet Volunteer Erin

“As a CASA volunteer, a lot of our work is about opening our minds to look at situations in a new way. To understand what basic care really is. Really understanding how important it is for a child to have family in their life. I’ve had to expand how I look at the world, my community, even individual families. I’m learning how to help nurture and advocate for a healthy family connection between a child and their struggling parent. Reunification is not always possible. But it’s such an important part of our responsibility as advocates to try.” - Erin, CASA Advocate 


Erin became a CASA advocate six years ago, having been a community volunteer in other capacities for over thirty years. As a member of The Junior League of Austin, Erin worked with several local nonprofits over the years before applying to volunteer with CASA. “The Junior League is such a great way to get to know the Austin community,” Erin shares. “And at this stage in my life, I knew I wanted to make a difference on a more intimate scale, which led me to CASA.” She and her family also have an extensive legal background — she worked as a paralegal, her husband is an attorney. “Navigating the legal system comes naturally to me, and CASA provided a way for me to do that in a really effective manner.” 


A native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Erin moved to Austin as a newlywed with her husband in 1990. “My husband grew up here, and now I’ve lived here longer than anywhere else!” They have owned their own businesses and share two grown adult kids. “My experience as a parent and advocating for my own children over the years has already helped me greatly in this work.” 


In her first (and only) case, Erin has had a unique experience, advocating long-term for two siblings in the state’s permanent custody.  “It’s been the tale of two cities with these kids,” Erin says. One of the children has been adopted, but the other has been in over a dozen placements and has had ten different caseworkers. “It became very apparent six months in how difficult this system is for kids, and how important it is for them to have an advocate that doesn’t expire. So however long these kids need a CASA, I’m not going anywhere.”  


“There are moments that remind you how vulnerable kids are." 


Early in her time on this case, Erin was traveling for work and received a call from her CASA supervisor. Erin learned that there was an emergency removal of one of the children from their placement due to safety concerns. “I was terrified for this child! Were they in imminent harm?” Erin worried. But CASA immediately made arrangements to fly a staff member there to put eyes on the child, working in tandem with another CASA program that happened to be closer to the placement. Erin describes this experience as a defining moment for her. “It showed me the absolute vulnerability of kids in the foster care system. It was very emotional for me as a volunteer to try to understand what the child was going through. Changing locations on a dime, strangers taking me from place to place. That would be traumatic to me as a middle-aged woman!” 


From that moment on, Erin determined the child would always see her no matter where they were placed. “They always knew that wherever they were, they could call me anytime of day or night. I’ve tried to be a lifeline for that child and give them some sense of stability. Far away in a different city, it didn’t matter. I would be there to advocate for them. It’s vital.” 

Erin won’t argue that volunteering with CASA is a big commitment. But she wants to make it clear how much support CASA supervisors provide for volunteers. “You are never alone on your case. My supervisors over the years have been instrumental. I’ve often needed their help to look at this through a different lens, such as when a child is removed from a placement without much warning. It can feel chaotic and emotional, and I can’t help but worry. But my supervisor was so steadying and helped me advocate through it. I’ve also had to hit pause due to health circumstances in own life, and they’ve willingly grabbed the steering wheel and continued our advocacy. They have helped me feel prepared and competent, and I always know they have my back.” 


“All of the life experience and strengths I’ve gained through my education, parenthood, my career — all of those skills have come into play with CASA. I know that I am helping make a real difference in a child’s life. I’m sure I get more out of it than I’m giving sometimes,” Erin says with a smile, “because there is so much enrichment in this work.”  


Erin looks forward to doing this work for a long time. “I can see this fitting into my life well into the future. And for anyone considering becoming an advocate, you get to determine when that is for you! You can make a commitment in any season of your life to help a child have a voice.”  

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