Four things happened in the past few weeks that include both good and bad, both heart-warming and heart-wrenching, both why-can’t-there-be-more-of-this and why-do-these-things-happen. The first was Micah – a wonderful young man with a forever-place in my heart who suffered a tragic end.
The second was the 5K race benefiting Hospice of the Piedmont – working alongside an outstanding team of volunteers and staff holding a highly successful fundraising event because people get terminal illnesses but should never have to die alone or in pain. I wonder if this prize-winning, high-fiving child will remember this day…
The third involves CASA. I’ve been thinking about this for some time, several years in fact, and this spring decided to become a volunteer. I have a ways to go before I am actually useful, but you have to start somewhere.
There are many less-than-optimal home situations in the world. Some are worse than less-than-optimal; they are bad. Some are worse than bad; they are horrendous. In the horrendous cases, children are often in the mix, often not cared for as they should be, sometimes neglected outright, sometimes victims of abuse.
If you’re that child, who’s looking out for you? Who’s speaking on your behalf? In Charlottesville, as in many other places, volunteers called Court Appointed Special Advocates take on one case at a time and stick with it over the course of about a year, or until there is resolution. They spend time with the child and with the various adults in the child’s world, develop an overall understanding of the situation and make a recommendation to the judge as to the outcome that would be in the best interest of the child.
I was one of fourteen people in CASA training this spring. We went through 42 classroom and courtroom hours, both intensive and comprehensive, over the course of six weeks. On the Tuesday after the 5K race, the induction ceremony was held at the courthouse. (You are not allowed to bring cameras or phones into the courthouse, so there are no pictures of this event.)
The work will be solemn at times, disturbing no doubt, heartbreaking. I wonder if I have any idea yet just how disturbing and heartbreaking. Probably not.
We try to imagine what we will face, but my own imagination is perhaps not wild enough to paint the picture accurately. I have known low income to the point of state aid, to where spending $4 to rent a movie gave me great pause, to where a $20 tip elated me and my mother brought me groceries and my sister gave me a gift card from the grocery store. But I have never been homeless. I served on a federal grand jury and listened for a full year to the cases involving murder, armed robbery, drugs deals and suspicious overdoses, and my heart has cried rivers for Micah and my dear friends. But my record is clean and I have never done drugs. There is a lot I don’t understand.
We shall see what it feels like, looks like, smells like, sounds like. We will look into the eyes of these children and wish we could do more. We will do our part to form a recommendation – even if it is not-great as compared to even-less-great – and hopefully better the situation for the child. We will – I am sure – pray.
I know I am new at this. I know there is much I don’t know, much I will not be able to know, much I will miss that could be pertinent. Yet again I hear Edward Everett Hale’s words in my head:
‘I am only one, but I am one.
I cannot do everything, but I can do something.
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.’
We were encouraged to invite family and friends to the induction ceremony. Mom and Jerry came, Samuel came, Sandy came, Brad and Piper and Zoe were in town that week and also came(!). It had been made clear that the judge in this court loves children and we should definitely bring the little ones. I know they won’t remember it, but they were there for and with me.
Super exciting for me as well was when I looked up and saw Ellie and Josh. Josh was a prize student of mine at the Montessori school when I first moved to Virginia. Ellie is his angel of a mother. I’d met Ellie surprisingly at the 5K race on Saturday, having not seen her for many years. In our brief conversation I had mentioned CASA and the induction ceremony, and they came!!! I’m not sure there are words to describe the power that strong and loving support of family and friends brings to the table.
This is the CASA house in Charlottesville. Sad cases come in. Oh, say it isn’t so. Say this didn’t happen. Say these parents didn’t do that… But over time, good happens. Lots of good happens. The staff and volunteers have one goal primarily in mind, one light guiding the emails they write, the phone calls they make, the miles they drive, the hearings they attend – what is best for the child?
I have been assigned my first case. This coming week I will meet with the social worker assigned to the case. It’s new territory and it’s not everything, but it’s something I can do.