For my final part in the three-part series delving deeper into some aspects of volunteering with CASA, I want to discuss something that is often thought about last—us, the volunteers, and what being a CASA volunteer means in our lives.
CASA’s motto is “I Am for the Child.” As I’ve discussed in prior posts, all CASA volunteers clearly provide a valuable resource to a foster child’s case—the benefits are tangible and can be seen in the changes we observe in our kids, and the successes we hear about from our supervisors, team members and judges. But something that we rarely talk about is the benefit we, as volunteers, reap from this experience. I present the argument that we are not only advocates for the youth with whom we work; we are also advocates for ourselves, aware of those aspects of volunteering that give us pleasure, improve our perception of ourselves, and demonstrate our core values.
Volunteer work is seen as a selfless act, and, in my experience, people shy away from admitting that there may be reasons beyond that selflessness that they volunteer. This is ingrained in us—there is often a view that helping others should not be done for the benefit of the helper, which, of course, is true to some degree. Genuineness and empathy are not easy to fake, and an advocate whose only goal is professional or personal enhancement may find those qualities hard to develop. A volunteer’s focus must always be the child and what is in their best interest. But it is undeniable that the work that we do changes us, and gives us back some of the good that we do for others.
What it means for the volunteers:
Professional development. Many of us volunteer because we have a deep passion for the type of work CASA does. Some of us either are already a part of that career path or are planning to pursue a related field (such as social work, psychology or counseling, medical training, nonprofit administration—the list could become quite long). The training, on-the-ground volunteer hours, varied and relevant educational opportunities and networking possibilities are extensive. Through our monthly reports and our court reports we practice professional writing with objectivity, organization and clear mission, and are given constructive feedback with regard to those. The time spent on these cases and level of commitment we subscribe to are immensely relevant to employers who are looking for employees with strong work ethic. Every day, and particularly when faced with those new, surprising or disturbing circumstances that often come up during our cases, we are required to use critical thinking skills and informed judgments which may profoundly impact the client with whom we work.
Personal development. As is often said, difficult situations make plain the true qualities of an individual’s personality. Each of us deals with the challenging aspects of our cases differently. In my opinion, this raw demonstration of who you really are is invaluable. How do you deal with dangerous or scary situations? How do you resolve a conflict that is getting in the way of moving your case forward? How do you address and hold responsible someone who is not doing their job? None of these are pleasant things to do, and yet living through those experiences may have multiple benefits, such as a boost in self esteem, confidence, and working knowledge to maybe do better the next time a situation like that comes up. This work pushes you out of your comfort zone and forces you to deal with real life situations. I would be hard pressed to find a self-help group, college class or book that can teach those skills so effectively.
Social development. Not only are we introduced to new and unfamiliar situations and problems, we are also introduced to many, many new individuals from all walks of life. Our investigation requires us to speak with everybody, not just those who make us feel comfortable or who know the most about what’s going on. We have to build rapport, not just with the youth we work with, but with other professionals, family members, and even the judge assigned to your case. This rapport-building is a skill which enhances all types of interpersonal relationships. After all, isn’t trust, honesty and genuineness important in any relationship, be it professional or personal?
And we can’t forget the community of CASA volunteers and supervisors that you become a part of when you complete your training. It’s evident during the rare opportunities that volunteers are able to meet as a group—conversation flows easily, laughter is audible, and devotion to the organization and its mission is evident. This is because we are brought together by a shared goal of improving the lives of foster children in Denver, and driven by a call to be the best child advocate we can be. We understand each other in a way that no one else can. And we are privy to the secret benefit that being a child advocate brings us.
About Jesse: Jesse Griffin has been a volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocate in Denver since October 2013. Although she had never volunteered before, she was drawn to the program after reading an editorial in the Denver Post (Caldwell: How you can help abused and neglected children, April 30, 2013). She says that Denver CASA has made a profound impact on her life.
In addition to volunteering with Denver CASA, Jesse works as a legal assistant and is working on her undergraduate degree in Human Services at Metropolitan State University. She has five pets and enjoys backpacking, riding bikes, knitting, sewing and baking. Jesse has a passion for writing and reporting to the best of her ability.
If you have any questions, comments, ideas for future posts or resources for CASA youth or volunteers for Jesse, please email her at [email protected]