Many newly retired folks want to volunteer for something worthwhile. One non-profit I can recommend is Voices for Children and becoming a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate). “Voices” does a great job helping foster children reach their potential using their CASAs. I was a CASA for several years in San Diego.
Having been a counselor for 20 years in an inner city high school, I thought there was nothing I couldn’t handle. I was wrong. A CASA’s life is rewarding but difficult work – always challenging, yet enjoyable.
To this point, meet Tony and Joey (not their real names). Tony was a particularly challenging young man. As a laid out a possible future for him, playing football (he was that good), achieving his high school diploma – on to college, graduating etc., Tony was quick to point out problems. He insisted his football coach was incompetent and racist, degrees are not guarantees of financial success, etc. Tony lived only to reach his 18th birthday and exit the foster care system. He yearned for the freedom of San Diego streets under the protection of some gang. One of my failures was not to convince him otherwise. At our farewell meeting, I teared up as we embraced. Tony walked away knowing his CASA cared a great deal about him and his future.
On the lighter side, there was Joey. We bonded somewhat when we discovered we were both of Italian descent. We try to educate each other in the ways of the world. For example, Joey taught me always to ask for takeout at Panda Express – you get more food that way! At our many mall lunches, Joey, who I swear had a hollow leg, ate with gusto finishing his meal and mine. Also, he amazed me with his cell phone knowledge, far beyond my capacity.
At our dining out, I insisted that he pull down his hoodie and put his phone away. It was the least respect he could give anyone with whom he was sharing a meal. Joey said his last CASA allowed him to do both, which I didn’t believe for a second. Telling the truth was not Joey’s strong suit.
Once when we were eating Chinese, I excused myself to go to the restroom. Upon my return, I spotted him, hoodie up and playing a game on his phone. I walked up behind him, pulled the hoodie down and in my best Joe Pesci voice said, “And put that damn phone away”—which he promptly did. Then he slowly turned to me and said “Why?” Yup, I had assaulted the wrong kid. There was Joey two tables away laughing his head off. Joey and I may have bonded a bit more that day than over our common heritage.
Volunteering to be a CASA for Voices for Children will be challenging, but the sharing of each other’s lives is precious. You will change a life or two, and despite a rare disappointment, that will make it all worthwhile.
VOL. 113, NO. 18 - May 3, 2023
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