SFCASA is reintroducing our "Volunteer Voice" series. This month's piece comes from Monica.
I live and work in San Francisco. My CASA youth Alanna (pseudonym) lives with a family member in Solano county. We met when she was 11, though she has been in foster care since she was 2. She is now 18 years old and a senior in high school. I usually drive to see her on a Saturday or Sunday, once or twice a month.
We have found things that we like doing together: going to the movies, having lunch, getting mani/pedis, going to the library, going to the local farmers’ market, etc. Sometimes we go to the beauty supply store or Target and I get her some necessary item. Mostly we engage in small talk or listen to the car radio. Before she got her own phone, she used my phone to message her friends through Facebook Messenger. She chooses the radio station. She chooses the movie. She chooses the place for lunch. I’ve learned a lot about popular culture from Alanna: who are the heartthrob actors and actresses and the top singers and entertainers.
One of the things I do as her CASA volunteer is notice what is missing from her life or experience and then do something to remedy that. When she was 12, I encouraged her to take swim lessons. Although she was not enthusiastic about doing so and did not see it as necessary, I used the argument that she was likely to be a mother one day, and as a mother it would be important as a matter of safety to be capable of swimming as well as to be a model to her future children for learning new skills. When she thought she would be prevented from participating in her middle school graduation because she had lost a textbook, I coached her on how to negotiate a solution with her school administration, i.e. offer to work off the value of the book.
Now that she is 18 and longing to get to San Francisco, I showed her how to use BART, and helped her develop the skills she needed to comfortably navigate public transportation. This took several round trips, starting during the summer before her senior high school year, each time with her taking more responsibility and learning different skills: She now knows how to get to the BART station with her local bus system, how to purchase a ticket, how to determine the correct amount for a round trip ticket, how to find the correct train in the correct direction, how to get off the train at the correct station, and how to walk to her destination, usually her Independent Living Skills Program, south of Market Street in San Francisco. We also used BART to attend the SFCASA Holiday Party—we wouldn’t miss it—in the Mission. We have discussed the issues of personal safety and of what to do if there are difficulties, such as taking a train too far or if someone on the street or on BART is bothering her. Alanna now says she is ready to come to San Francisco on her own. It’s another step towards independence and self-reliance.
Alanna knows that I only want the best for her and I am looking for ways for her to develop into her best. I attended her middle school graduation and have her upcoming high school graduation on my calendar. I attend school meetings with her caregiver/relative, school counselor, teachers, social worker, and attorney: we are her support team. We are all encouraging her and supporting her regarding college applications.
Yet for these 6+ years, I did not know what she thought of me. Because she recently wrote an essay about “My CASA Volunteer,” I learned that she considers me her “best friend” outside of her peers. Here is what she wrote:
- [My CASA Volunteer] Encourages me to do better in school.
- Motivates me to keep an open mind.
- Is positive and sees my potential.
- Is loving and caring and allows me to be myself.
- Is my mentor and gives me a positive outlook on life.
- Is my teacher and broadens my horizons.
- Is supportive and goes the distance to help in any way.
- Is understanding and in all ways is positive and open-minded.
- Is helpful and makes sure I have all that I need.
- Gives great advice and is outspoken and helps me to prepare myself for the best outcome.
I was blown away. Is that what she thought of me? She never said so. . . not to me, at least. I had always found my CASA volunteering rewarding. But now, I’m glowing.