Giving Back: CASA Gene’s Story

To give thanks to our CASA volunteers and highlight their transformative experiences working with the children on their cases, our Director of Development, Miranda Graul, has started to interview a few of volunteers in recent weeks. The below Q&A features Gene Watkins, a dedicated and passionate volunteer who has been serving on his case for nearly one year.

Q: Talk about your experience as a CASA Volunteer, consider the successes and challenges and any stories that demonstrate your relationship with the child on your case.

A: I became a CASA after looking into becoming a Guardian ad Litem (GAL), which was something I did in Atlanta as pro bono work.  After I discovered that the CASA volunteers in Colorado function more like the Georgia GALs, I decided to become a CASA volunteer instead. I had also handled divorce for indigent battered women with children in Atlanta, so I had a good deal of training in abuse and neglect cases.  So, in looking for my first Denver CASA case, I asked for the child most in need.  My kiddo’s GAL had requested a CASA volunteer for a high-need young pre-teen who had been in the “system” for approaching a decade.  Within the first month of taking his case, he had a medical emergency which required an extensive hospital stay and several surgeries.  When I was the only person with this child before, during and after one of those surgeries, I realized he only had the team of professionals the “system” provided – but nobody as family. It is heartbreaking to see a child in that circumstance.  Though it is hard at times, I feel an obligation to help a child who is alone, afraid, and in need.  The fact that he is a kind and caring kid doesn’t hurt.

Q: Discuss your motivations for getting involved in philanthropy and your reason for choosing Denver CASA.

A: Although I don’t consider myself particularly religious, there is a passage in the Gospel of Matthew that I try to live my life by: it ends with Jesus telling his disciples that “Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me.” As someone immensely blessed with fortune, health and family, I feel a heightened obligation to help those most in need in our community: children who have been removed from their family by no fault of their own. The Dali Lama encourages people to practice being the person they want to be. By practicing moral choices, those choices will become instinctual – part of you.  So, I endeavor to practice the qualities I want to strengthen in myself through philanthropic activities.  Philanthropy means “love toward your fellow man” – so not coincidentally, the qualities I practice are the qualities of love:  patience, trust, hopefulness, selflessness, loyalty, kindness and empathy.

What is my motivation?  To be a better human being and help the world while on that venture.  CASA’s mission is to help our most vulnerable.  Bureaucracy and the pace of law will test your patience.  The horrific stories in the juvenile court will test your hopefulness, kindness, and empathy.  Children driven by self-preservation to manipulation will test your trust.  The time commitment and occasional set-backs will test your selflessness.  But the smile and laughter of your kiddo during those bright times will make it worth the while.

Q: Why is Denver CASA worthy of a donation? What is the urgency in financially supporting the mission of Denver CASA?

A: Of course CASA is “worthy” of a donation – hell, they deserve all the financial assistance we can give them.  Denver CASA needs help – right now – because there are children in the most horrible circumstance of their lives who have nobody dedicated to them. Even a time period as short as a month when a child has been torn apart by strangers from their family, friends, school and support is an eternity for that child. Giving them a kind and dedicated CASA volunteer helps at that moment to let the child know they are not alone.  It is hard to fathom a more important service than the one Denver CASA is providing.

Q: What benefit have you experienced in being a CASA Volunteer with Denver CASA? How has your involvement in philanthropy impacted you and your community?

A: It has certainly made me appreciate the great fortune I have in my marriage, children, and family.  It has also introduced me to a fantastic kid.  He has every reason to be angry, selfish and sad, but he is kind, caring and outgoing.  I know this incredibly tough period in his life is a little bit easier because I am in it.  I know that helping a kiddo as a CASA makes my community just a little incrementally better – but that is what most of us can hope to do – make the world just a little bit better; and that is good enough for me.