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Giving Tuesday Donors

Marian Berryhill     Diana Codding
Priya Ahlawat     Kendra Bertschy
Linda and Terry Inscoe     Emily Nelson
Pamel McAdoo     Kathryn Martin
Carla Dodge     Carol Gebhardt
Susan Nissembaum     Jodie Black  
Valerie Borrego     
  • Children in care in Washoe County on an average day 2020
    Children in care in Washoe County on an average day 2020

    730

  • Children served by CASA volunteers in 2020
    Children served by CASA volunteers in 2020

    137

  • Estimated volunteer hours in 2020 (in-kind value over $50K)
    Estimated volunteer hours in 2020 (in-kind value over $50K)

    2040

  • You can be the ONE we need!
    You can be the ONE we need!

    1

News & Notes

Why the Benefit for Washoe County Court Appointed Special Advocates Foundation Matters

Jessica Sweeten

The Land of Make Believe was the early childhood refuge of countless kids of my generation, but I imagine Mister Rogers and his neighborhood of invariably kind characters features especially prominently in the childhood memories of we who couldn’t afford cable.

This is patently true in my case. The gentle presence of the indomitable Fred Rogers slipping into his cozy cardigans and opening a window into a kind, fun place for learning was one of few constants in my young life. I looked forward each weekday morning to transcending my chaotic real-world living room in favor of a world characterized by growth, and warmth, and inclusion.

I liked Mister Rogers, and I trusted him. He felt safe. He felt real. He gave me joy. He gave me hope. His influence persists when I find myself approaching a painful situation even to this day. I will always remember what he learned from his own caring adult—his mother—and taught to us;  he said to “Look for the helpers” when the world felt like a scary place.

As a child, I watched for helpers when my life felt scary, and I watch for helpers today when I’m scared for the future of kids who need more than they have.

 It would be impossible to over-estimate the importance one caring adult can have on the life of an at-risk child, and the helpers I’d like to draw your attention to are the volunteers of Washoe Court Appointed Special Advocates, who help local foster kids every day.

On the eve of World Kindness Day, a holiday inspired by Mister Rogers himself, RenoStandUp and The Holland Project are hosting a limited-capacity, private evening of comedy, music, dancing, food, and fun benefitting The Washoe CASA Foundation. Enjoy a night of unforgettable fun, and help the helpers who are doing so much with some of our community’s most vulnerable kids! All proceeds will benefit Washoe County foster kids by helping to fund “Christmas for the Kids” holiday shopping trips with their CASA volunteers. Any remaining proceeds from the event will be directed to the Washoe CASA ComfortCases program to provide suitcase kits filled with personalized items clothing, personal care, and activities for individual foster kids served by Washoe CASA.

On any given day this year in the state of Nevada, more than 4000 children will reside in foster care. Each of these kids enters the system as a result of unsustainable hardships in their own homes and families, and every one enters the system while consumed to varying degrees by the trauma of their previous circumstances.

The adjustment to losing homes, family, normalcy, stability, predictability—everything a kid is accustomed to, for better or worse—is compounded by the lack of consistent guidance and support from a reliable source. Foster kids almost invariably experience the additional confusion, trauma, frustration, and loneliness of getting “lost” in a wildly overworked social service system.

In spite of countless good intentions and the tireless work of social workers, attorneys, counselors, teachers, foster parents, and other support sources, there is more need than there are time or resources.

One of the less visible, but most common consequences of being a ward of the state is shortage of people who are able or willing to spend the time, energy, or resources to help foster kids as individual, unique people, much less assess or fulfill their unique wants or needs; this has incalculable but profound implications for the futures of foster kids.

They are robbed of opportunity and self-esteem by the reality of living in foster care, to say nothing of the trauma that preceded or is interspersed with the “system” experience. Most foster kids fall into patterns they’ve seen modeled or resort to paths that lead to future trauma for themselves and any future progeny of their own.

Many will be in and out of foster care repeatedly. Many will enter the juvenile justice system or be further victimized by others within the system. Many will feel steamrolled by the system that is intended to care for them, and most will be at least partly robbed of their identities and feel diminished in value. The system as it most frequently works does not reliably provide for the stability of foster kids, nor does it typically set foster kids up for promising lives when they age out or are removed from the system, and this is a liability whose implications bode poorly not just for the affected individuals, but for the communities and families who will not benefit from the lost potential of their greatest resource: kids.

CASA helps bridge the gap between the need for individualized, highly-skilled support and advocacy and the shortage of people and resources within the institutions and agencies charged with the care of foster kids.

An advocate is no ordinary volunteer, and the responsibilities they willingly accept are nothing short of heroic. Their work is integral to the well-being of every foster child they serve, and they make a genuine difference in the lives of kids who would likely otherwise remain on the margins of society for generations to come. CASAs interrupt the cycle and help foster kids create new patterns and expectations. Court Appointed Special Advocates are meaningfully changing the world for the better, ONE CARING ADULT and ONE FOSTER KID at a time. Kids need a lot of help with the scary business of growing, learning, developing, healing, and joining society as contributing citizens, and CASAs provide just the help they need.

CASA’s mission is personal to me. Owing to both the genuine smile and official messy bun of the soccer mom set that I typically wear, one might comfortably assume I’m a stereotypical middle-class suburban woman, replete with a wholesome back story.

One might even guess that I’m a professional, well-educated, community-minded, kind-hearted, passably fun person. You wouldn’t be wrong, but there’s a lot you might not guess. I’m a woman who is a mother, a wife, a teacher, a reader, a creator, a doer, and a giver. I can finally and unequivocally declare that I like me a lot, and I love my life.

I’m living passionately and meaningfully, participating in my community to its benefit, and raising healthy, well-adjusted, kind children. I am an exception to a tragic trend so common it’s almost the rule; my very life and my modest contributions to the world defy the predictions of most socioeconomic statistics. I’m not bragging; the credit belongs with an exceptional human named Sue who was the one consistent, caring adult who showed up for me when no one else would or could.

I was the third of four children born to my teenaged parents. My biological parents were themselves the products of generations of poverty, neglect, abuse, mental illness, substance addiction, and the other myriad traumas that plague the American poor. Lacking the tools to raise children healthier than they were, my parents perpetuated the traumatic cycle by inflicting a similarly challenging childhood on my siblings and I, despite their most loving and highest intentions. Through a series of what can accurately be described as very unfortunate events, my brother, my two sisters, and I ultimately became wards of the State: kids with no legal parents, or more commonly called “foster kids.”

The time I spent as a foster kid in the Nevada Division of Child and Family Services system was tumultuous and traumatic. In spite of the good intentions and tireless effort of countless civil servants tasked with my care, support, guidance, and development., my teen years in the system were almost entirely devoid of predictability or stability, and they were liberally peppered with a variety of dehumanizing and painful experiences that typify the life of a foster kid.

Suffice it to say that being in foster care is probably about as uncomfortable as one would expect. It remains an unfortunate fact that there simply aren’t enough resources within the public social services system to provide personalized care or attention to all of the foster kids who need it, and I was poised to fall through the proverbial cracks when Sue entered my life.

My story is not mine so much as it is “ours,” because without Sue’s dedication, patience, expertise, perseverance, assertiveness, and altruism, my life would not be my life. Sue volunteered countless hours to change my story, and it is with effusive gratitude that I share what I humbly call “our success.” This modern-day heroine was appointed to be my Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA), and in this role she irrevocably changed my path.

As my volunteer Advocate, Sue represented my personal, unique interests and needs (and only mine) in Family and Criminal Courts, based on taking the time to get to know me as an individual and understanding my unique perspectives and needs, rather than defaulting to generic, impersonal (if efficient) best practices and policies for the rearing of children who find themselves without parents. Sue spent countless unpaid hours becoming a functioning expert on both me as a person and the legal intricacies of several cases requiring my reluctant participation, purely from a desire to help just one kid and in so doing, make a positive difference in her community.

Unlike with caseworkers or attorneys, I had Sue’s undivided attention; she really listened to me, and she amplified my voice. She validated my feelings and my needs. She sought justice and fair treatment for me. She helped me believe I mattered enough to do hard things, to try, to take responsibility for my own choices. She helped me find opportunities to build the life I desired.

She acted on what she learned about me and about my specific case to ensure that I had safe housing and care, was able to graduate with-even at the top of-my high school class, could establish lifelong relationships, and would go on to higher education and a life filled with the promise of better things to come. She helped me believe that the very life I lead today was possible. She invested in my future, and I hope I’ve been a good steward of that investment.

There are thousands of foster kids in Nevada today in similar straits to those I found myself in all those years ago--lost in the system, each feeling more like a case more than a person--who would benefit immeasurably from the influence of their own personal advocates in the Court system. I hope to pay Sue’s investment forward by training to become a CASA myself, and I would encourage all those with the interest and ability to make a difference in the life a foster kid to follow this link to find out how you can invest in the future of foster kids with The Washoe CASA Foundation. www.washoecasafoundation.com

Because of Sue, I didn’t become a statistic. Because of CASA, more “success stories” are coming. Join us for a night of fun, and help us help the helpers. Mister Rogers would be proud.

Citizen’s Forum Essay Shared with Our Town Reno by Jessica Sweeten