At Box, one of our core values is to 'Make Mom Proud'. To us, that means always trying to do right by our colleagues, customers, and the greater community. Through this series, we'll be highlighting the amazing work of the Box community who work hard, day in, and day out, to make the world a better place.
Today, we’re excited to share our conversation with Andrea Kirk who leads development and events at CASA of San Mateo County.
First things first, what does CASA stand for and what is its mission?
CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates. Our mission at CASA of San Mateo County is to ensure that all abused and neglected children that are under the protection of the court have a consistent, caring adult who speaks on their behalf and helps them reach their full potential. To do so, we pair children in the foster care and juvenile justice systems with community volunteers who provide one-on-one support, mentoring and advocacy in the court room and beyond.
What was the inspiration for the founding of this organization?
CASA, a national volunteer movement, began in 1976. The founder, Seattle Superior Court Judge David Soukup, decided he couldn’t endure any more sleepless nights worrying about the lifelong impact his decisions had on abused and neglected children. At that time, children in foster care didn’t receive the same representation in court as parents did. According to Judge Soukup, in an LA Times interview, “I was consumed by the fact that I didn’t have enough information about each child, and I just didn’t know if I had done the very best job I could.”
He thought well-trained volunteers could ensure children’s voices were heard and provide judges with the necessary insights to make the best possible decisions. By 1977, Judge Soukup formed the first CASA program to recruit, train, and supervise everyday people who volunteered to build meaningful relationships and advocate for abused and neglected children in juvenile dependency court. Those first 50 volunteers became Court Appointed Special Advocates and gave birth to a movement. Today, close to 1,000 CASA programs serve children in 49 of our 50 states.
How have you and CASA adapted for an increasingly digital world?
Like most organizations transitioning to a fully work-from-home environment, our staff uses tools such as Zoom, Teams, and other virtual meeting platforms to stay in touch with each other, our volunteers and our supporters. Court appearances are now done by phone or via Zoom. We use Box to collaborate and share documents as well.
Our CASA volunteers, who, until recently, have not been able to meet with their youth in person, have used creative ways to stay connected and engaged online virtual tours, facetiming on walks, reading storybooks together, checking in via text and so much more.
We have also transitioned our volunteer training to an online forum. New volunteers are required to complete 30 hours of training to be officially sworn in as an Officer of the Court to be able to advocate for their foster youth. These classes are now taught through a combination of Zoom meetings and on “CASA University” a virtual tool for CASA programs.
What are some of the biggest challenges the organization is facing?
While we all have had to face challenges as a result of the pandemic, we are most concerned for the well-being of the youth we support. In the last several months, there has been a significant drop in reports of child abuse and neglect during the coronavirus pandemic. Many fear that, as we emerge, the child welfare system will be flooded as the impacts of family stress become public again. As a result, we may face a shortage of CASA volunteers to support the increased number of foster kids entering the system.
Additionally, we know that kids thrive when they have relationships with adults who are responsive to and acknowledge their various identities, experiences and culture. Black and Latino children are disproportionately represented in the San Mateo County child welfare system. While we are fortunate to welcome dedicated volunteers from all backgrounds, we are also working hard to increase the number of Black and Latino volunteers so that our advocates better mirror the diversity of the children we serve. In addition, we also strongly welcome male volunteers to support our boys who are in need of male role models.
Another challenge we face as a non-profit is the cancellation of our biggest fundraisers due to the shelter-in-place restrictions. We are exploring alternatives and new avenues to raise funds to ensure that as the number of children in foster care grows, we have the funds available to support the volunteers and additional services required to best advocate for and support the well-being of our foster youth.
What has been your biggest learning the last few months?
Daisaku Ikeda said “a person’s true nature is revealed at times of the greatest adversity.” These last few months have led to personal and professional challenges none of us could have imagined. Regardless, our community has demonstrated their kindness, humanity, and generosity so we can continue to serve those who are truly the most vulnerable. With their gifts of laptop computers, homemade masks, resources, and money, our community continues to show our foster youth that people do care. We always knew people are inherently kind, but have reaffirmed just how giving people can be, even when they themselves may be struggling.
What are you most proud of with regards to CASA's work?
This quote by Rita Pierson says it best, “every child deserves a champion, an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection and insists that they become the best they can possibly be.”
Most people who volunteer or donate to CASA do so because they want to make a difference in the life of a child. What we are also reminded of on a daily basis is that our volunteers and supporters not only influence the youth they advocate for, but the connections they forge have far reaching ripple effects that extend to that youth’s siblings, their foster family, and even that young person’s future family. When you give the gift of human connection, safety, trust, and confidence - you are not only changing that person…you are changing a generation.
How can people help support CASA of San Mateo County?
We are always looking for volunteers. You can learn more about how to become a volunteer on our website. If you are outside of the bay area and/or interested in making a donation, please visit here. You can also email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org for additional information or to get signed up for our newsletter.