Thank you, and thank you to the folks at CASA of Los Angeles for this tremendous honor. Sue and I are both gratified and humbled by this award…maybe even embarrassed over it.
There are so many members of the community, performing so many good works – many as unpaid volunteers – that we are still in a state of disbelief that we were chosen for this honor.
Actually, when Diane Grooms contacted Sue last summer and asked us to drop over to the CASA offices on Avenue J some afternoon to chat with her and Jean Youngquist and Lesley Bois…we could not imagine what was so important that she needed to speak with both off us on short notice…but…what the heck…it was fair season and it wasn’t much out of the way – so we altered our schedule and dropped by. At this session she shared what this organization was planning – we were floored. Actually the conversation on the way back to the car was “these people must have us mixed up with some other folks – they can’t be serious” – but the three of them convinced us that they were in deed serious, so here we are…
I guess, I sealed our fate at this meeting when I acknowledged that I was familiar with the CASA organization and had actually experienced the work of these volunteers who are the COURT APPOINTED SPECIAL ADVOCATES.
Most people don’t know this, but Palmdale School District has most of the time between 600 and 700 foster children as students. The total for the most recent years usually extends that number to 800+ or approximately 4% of the enrolled population. To put that in more understandable terms many of our schools have over 35 foster child students – nearly one per each classroom on the campus. And these students tend to be more mobile than our typical student – sometimes moving multiple times (to multiple homes) during a single school year.
So let’s think about the unintended effect on these students in the foster system and the events that are potentially traumatic for these young lives.
1. First – there has obviously been exposure to some sort of abuse or neglect that led to their care by the foster system
2. Second – these children are uprooted from all of their familiar surroundings such as neighbors, friends, their school, supportive teachers – and moved
3. Third – they are located in unfamiliar surroundings (though to a safer location) often in a strange, different community.
4. Forth – many of these students have this process repeated when circumstance require a change in foster placement
This is where the CASA volunteer comes in to the picture. Often, the only constant in the life of these kids who feel pulled from pillar to post is the ongoing support of the CASA volunteer. Circumstance may change, but usually the volunteer does not. It often is the CASA volunteer who builds a relationship with the child and is able to help the child navigate new surroundings and in the process be the adult voice that these kids really need. I know in my end of the education system, we value the CASA volunteer because it gives us a legitimate constant, court authorized contact and support person to work with when we are crafting individual education programs for these individual students. It helps to have an objective adult with some history with the student to provide the sort of input that helps our programs better fit and serve these kids. In our District, we know where our foster children are, which ones require special education programs and which ones are aided by CASA volunteers. Further, we are in contact with these CASA reps and make sure that they know who to contact when there are education or other related questions. We don’t do this because of any particular specific mandate. We do it because it is just a good practice. We do it because it helps us to serve these students better.
The problem is…we believe that there are too few CASA volunteers…out of about 700 foster students presently in the Palmdale School District…only a dozen have this support…we are convinced that many more would benefit.
I believe that our friends at the CASA office would tell us that the only barriers are finding volunteers and gathering financial support. I believe that events such as tonight target these needs. First, spreading the word about the good works of CASA volunteers, second, stimulating the community minded spirit of true volunteerism and communicating the very real need for on-going recruitment of additional volunteers and lastly (and this is the lifeblood of any non-profit organization) your attendance and sponsorships help support the important work being done every day.
So….though you have John and Sue up front and being handed the award….the real heroes are all of us – all of you – who volunteer within our community…and some do little pieces and some do really heavy lifting pieces…some help with work and some help with money…but the work gets done, and the community is the better for it…
So…Sue and I are proud to be the stand ins…the surrogates–for all of the real heroes within our community – thank you CASA for honoring all of us…