Most people go into their experience as a CASA volunteer hoping to change a child's life, and not knowing how much it will change their own. In honor of National Volunteer Month, we asked volunteers to share some of the things they've learned during their time as a volunteer advocate, and how they've been able to apply that knowledge to other aspects of their life.
Building Empathy and Understanding
"I think it's hard to go through an experience like this and not appreciate the resources I've grown up with and the people who have stepped into my life as a role of supporter or mentor. It's also taught me to give people the benefit of the doubt, which is something I've never naturally been good at. But it's something that's bled into other areas of my life, which is good. People are usually doing the best they can in their situation. You just never know what the other person is going through."
-Volunteer Advocate Flor Castellanos
"I’ve learned the importance of vulnerability and human connection, and I’ve learned how to encourage others to open up as well."
-Volunteer Advocate Scott Glenn
"Volunteering with CASA has changed how I look at everybody. No matter where they come from or what might be going on, I know everybody is going through something. Not only am I learning how to support the family I’m volunteering for, but I’m trying to be more understanding of everyone around me. How can I best help others?"
-Volunteer Advocate Brier Mairena
Understanding How Trauma Affects Us
"After raising two sons, I thought I knew a lot about kids, but the children CASA serves are different, they have experienced trauma, violence, and so many other things that I wasn’t well-versed on. Training really enlightened me and helped me to understand how I could work with them and successfully advocate for their needs."
-Volunteer Advocate Steph Dirden
"Seeing how trauma manifests in the kiddos has helped me see my own trauma responses. With that insight, I'm able to work through my own trauma and change my own emotional responses to situations, which helps me be a better person and experience more joy in my life. Advocating for the kiddos has really strengthened my courage in asking for what I need and want. It's helped me develop my advocacy skills in my own life and ask things of others so that my needs are being met."
-Volunteer Advocate Alyssa Johnson
Learning about the Barriers People in our Community Face
"I’ve been a CASA since 2018 and I’m also a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) is my career. So I had what I thought was a good understanding of the foster care system and the barriers that kiddos and families face. But my work as a CASA has really opened my eyes even more and I’ve been surprised at the number of cases in Travis County - knowing this is not isolated to our county at all. In particular, everything is so much more complex than I thought and it is very overwhelming to manage all the pieces as a parent/placement/child.
In 2020, right before the pandemic started, my husband and I ended up becoming a fictive kin placement to his much younger teenage siblings due to family involvement with CPS.
And there we were, involved in the system ourselves, firsthand. I was so grateful for all the experience and knowledge I had as a social worker and CASA volunteer, but it didn’t really feel much “easier”!
The case originated in another county and the kids were never matched with a CASA volunteer. It made me really appreciate the amazing work that CASA of Travis County is doing locally. And I can’t quite find the right words for it, but I feel like kids with cases in Travis County are so fortunate to have CASA involved. It felt like night and day compared to what we experienced in our situation and working with CPS and AAL’s for our young family members (without CASA)."
-Volunteer Advocate Melissa Davis
Building Confidence and Learning New Skills
"CASA is a great example of women in leadership, in a world where the glass ceiling still exists. Being a volunteer teaches you how to advocate for yourself by advocating for others. It showed me that leadership is not who is the loudest in the room, but it’s often who is the most compassionate. I’m excited to channel that into my own life!"
-Volunteer Advocate Jahnavi Muppaneni
"As a parent and an active volunteer in my community, I am thankful for the vast Continuing Education trainings offered by CASA and its affiliates. The ability to increase my knowledge on a variety of topics such as child development, abuse identification, or trafficking, for example, has given me the confidence on how to advocate or handle situations that may occur outside of my case."
-Volunteer Advocate Summer Smith