In 1984, Maria Gonzalez traveled from her home in Puerto Rico to Toledo, OH, to obtain medical care for two of her three daughters. She planned to stay one year, long enough to access the better treatments for the girls’ congenital disorders.
Nearly 30 years later, Maria is still living in Toledo. After initially struggling to learn the language, provide for her daughters, and adjust to a chilly northern climate, Maria is now a well established member of her community. She puts her Spanish-language skills to use as a court and medical interpreter—and a CASA volunteer.
Maria joined Lucas County CASA in 2001, responding to an announcement of an upcoming training that appeared in the local paper.
“I knew from my work with the courts and medical professionals that that our children were suffering from abuse and neglect. It was a need that I recognized in the community. Becoming a CASA volunteer gave me the opportunity to do something about it.”
Maria has worked with more than 40 families in her 10 years of volunteering. She advocates almost exclusively for Spanish-speaking families because she is convinced that understanding their culture and their challenges, and enabling the parents to express themselves in their own language, make them more likely to succeed.
Maria says that in the majority of her cases, she has been successful in connecting parents with the supportive services and education they need to get their children back. In one dramatic case, she persevered in the face of threats from a malevolent boyfriend with a selfish plan.
“I was appointed to represent a family of eight children who had multiple fathers. Their mother’s current boyfriend was mean—many people in the community feared him, including this mother. I learned that he had a plan to move her family to Mexico, to use the children for labor on a farm he owned. I could not let this happen. I found the father of two of the children and asked the judge for an order that would prevent the mother from taking the children out of the county without their father’s permission. The judge agreed with my report, and he granted the order. When the boyfriend found out that he could not do what he had planned, he left the country.”
For her outstanding dedication and service to the families of Lucas County, Maria was named Volunteer of the Year by the Ohio State CASA Association in October 2011.
“I’m very passionate about the work that I do. I always say: You should not just give your leftovers. You should share what you have. I have experiences that I can share. I have a language that I can share, a culture that I can share. That is why I make time to be a CASA volunteer.”