When I became semi-retired, I continued to want to impact someone’s life in a deeper way as a volunteer. Two years ago, quite by chance, I ran into a woman I had known 15 years before, who has under her belt a decade-long commitment to CASA. The timing of our chance meeting got my attention, and I volunteered. After completing the training, I spent four frustrating months trying to meet with a shut down teenage girl who wanted no contact. So I attended team meetings of the multiple workers struggling to keep her together in her struggling family unit, but I felt frustrated, ready, eager, and all dressed up with nowhere to go. When the judge released me, seeking a better use for my time and energy, I returned to the difficult process of selecting one of the many children in need of a CASA. I am delighted to say that I hit the “CASA Jackpot”!
I selected Rachel‘s case for a number of reasons, some of which included a “spark” that seemed to leap from the case files and her heartbreaking experience of eight different placements with multiple caregivers. Rachel lives over an hour away from San Francisco in a deeply religious family; our first meeting was last November at a local church, which was a warm and welcoming experience outside my usual cultural bubble. Though understandably guarded and reserved at first, Rachel quickly revealed herself to be a bright, witty, resilient teenager, who is also quite perceptive and private.
Rachel graduated from middle school on the honor roll, and as she enters high school, my role has become very clear. She is in a solid home with several other foster children. I work carefully, consulting often with her foster mother and attending specialized clinic appointments, partly because Rachel has medical issues but also because we are now navigating adolescence. She must now begin learning to manage her condition.
Rachel has great enthusiasm for reading, school, social outings and shopping. Like many teens, she is disorganized and often manages time poorly, is addicted to her phone and Facebook, and gets her homework done often far too late at night. For now, her grades are fine. She has a strong sense of self, but sometimes her teenage wisdom and maturity do not match her clear intelligence. She does not allow me to see her darker side, and she is cautious about sharing deeper confidences. She has witnessed a lot and understandably distrusts the system. However, we have grown comfortable; and I thoroughly enjoy her humor, wit, spontaneity and engagement. She is a very bright child in a busy structured household where extra time and “enrichment” opportunities one-on-one with an adult are limited. She was a perfect candidate for a CASA, and my time behind the scenes has been well spent.
We only meet about twice a month because of distance and her desire to spend time with her friends. Though peer time is paramount, she has readily agreed to twice-monthly visits together. I spend considerable time checking in through phone and e-mail, working with her sensible foster mother, and arranging enrichment activities whenever possible. Rachel showed real initiative when she told me about “extra credit” field trips she could take for her classes to solidify her grades, so we have been to the Chabot Space Center on the night of the solar eclipse, Sutter’s Fort in Sacramento, and my favorite, the Rosie the Riveter Outdoor Museum in Richmond! So who, exactly, is being enriched here?
Rachel’s attorney told me about SOAR Academy, a perfect opportunity for Rachel. She missed the first two years of eligibility because no one could complete the time-consuming application process for her. SOAR provides a one-week leadership camp experience for achieving foster children entering grades 7, 8 or 9 upon acceptance to the program. This was a process that took time and multiple signatures on many forms, but in the end was well worth the effort behind the scenes. Once selected, participants attend a one week camping program on the UC Berkeley campus in late June where they share their stories, learn about leadership, bond with peers, and receive English and Math instruction. It is designed to provide psychological, social and academic support packaged with fun outdoor sports experiences, working to keep teens on track. In late September Rachel and I attended the program’s fall reunion event. While at the event she elected to sit next to me—a nice surprise. We laughed as she brought up a number of funny oxymorons, (“giant shrimp”), part of a discussion some months ago that I had forgotten. She keeps me on my toes!
Rachel loved SOAR, longs to see her friends, and looks forward to these events. She commented recently that she does not understand why people say to her, “IF you want to go to college…” Her response? “Why do people ask it as a question? Of COURSE I AM going to college!” (She went on line in 6th grade and selected a particular college she would like to attend.) Rachel may just possibly break a three-generation foster care family history and truly succeed as a college graduate, provided she is not derailed during the ups and downs of adolescence, let alone one spent under the challenging circumstances of foster care. At this point, her maturation and ability to make good decisions do not match her intelligence. This is not unusual among all adolescents. However, she has a steady, reliable, caring team behind her. My task, it seems, is very clear: providing steady support, monitoring her health, providing experiences, and remaining in her life as a supportive adult connection. This quite plainly meets my requirement of making a difference.
Comments are closed.