For most of a year, I’ve settled into a niche as an Interviewer for CASA. Having spoken with 70+ volunteer applicants to date, I enter into each (Zoom) interview with a mixture of eagerness and curiosity. Who will I meet? What life journey has led a person to this moment? The profiles that emerge of a CASA applicant have both surprised and delighted me. I am aware that my views reflect my own journey. With this caveat, I believe I’ve discerned “patterns” that may answer the question, who is the typical volunteer?
To be a CASA Volunteer, this special individual will have a blend of traits. On one hand, the applicant will display an aptitude (or tolerance!) to do research and to transform data into monthly reporting and, eventually, a document to be reviewed by a judge. They will act as an Advocate, one who tracks school progress, healthcare and multiple social services to assure that these align for the child’s best interest. On the other hand, this same person will speak from a reservoir of emotional intelligence. They will have the “heart” to be a supportive presence for a child during highs and lows of family disruption and show up, when needed, with a kind word.
To illustrate my point, during the first weeks of January, CASA staff were preparing for the initial volunteer training of the year. Following a pause for the holidays, my colleague, Teresa, and I were working full-steam ahead, juggling a flurry of applications to fill up the virtual classroom. Teresa hit the phones and coordinated the interview schedules. She then stepped back, I stepped forward, ready to log in and meet whoever shows up. This snapshot in time reinforced my growing perception of patterns – that the volunteer applicant will certainly display “heart” and, in addition, will likely have travelled along one of these life journeys. As I log in, who will I meet?
The Woman/Man in Uniform: As Zoom opens up, I immediately recognize the no-nonsense demeanor of the current (or newly retired) military staff. They are direct in speech, and answer the standard CASA interview questions with a clear-eyed approach as how to get a task done. They have moved around a lot but expect to be in Savannah “for a while”. Elevated above all, however, is a deep desire to connect with, and contribute to, their new community.
The Young Adult: This applicant always surprises me. The Young Adult is not much passed their 21st birthday, but has “been waiting all my life” for the opportunity to be a CASA. This young person readily expresses views on social justice, likely comes from a large family and speaks warmly about caring for, and supporting, another. They possess a mature outlook on life that is remarkably atypical for one so young.
The Educator: Our Educator is an uber-skilled professional with multiple layers of knowledge on child development and family dynamics. In addition, the years of instruction have trained them to be deft coach, able to nudge two steps forward after someone falls one step back during hard learning processes for both children and adults alike. The Educator is a devoted believer that to enhance any community, all children must have a shot to reach their potential.
The Survivor: To this day, I am astonished at the CASA applicant who has passed through early traumatic experiences to emerge with almost supernatural strength and insight. During our discussion, the Survivor will repeatedly reference their process of recovery from trauma and how horrid experiences led to crucial character-building. Reflecting back in time, the Survivor is resolute that they don’t want a child to ever be alone, without a voice, during a time of fear and disorientation.
The Community Builder: At first, this applicant appears demure. They may work in an office, run a small business or be a homebody with grown children. Their life is not quiet, yet the Community Builder describes feeling compelled “to move heaven and earth” for a vulnerable child. They are almost gleeful that, after years of hoping to be a CASA, a moment in their busy life has finally arrived. Motivation is framed as a big picture – being a CASA helps build our beloved community by raising up the most vulnerable among us.
Is There a Typical CASA volunteer?
To my surprise, yes and no. Yes, because each person, without exception, speaks with “heart”. This singular trait doesn’t vary and connects all of us at CASA with a shared motivation to help a vulnerable child. Broadly speaking, there are also “patterns” of backgrounds. If the CASA Woman in Uniform met the CASA Survivor on River Street, would they recognize each other? Probably not. But if they learn that they are both CASAs, a world of commonality opens up. This moment begins to answer, who is the “typical” volunteer? They are our fellow neighbor, whose life journey compels them to lend a hand, and heart, to a child in foster care.