Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Life Outside the Bubble

No doubt many of you saw the recent movie, “The Blind Side,” a true story of one family’s courage and generosity in reaching out to a young man in great need. I don't know about you, but this film generated a great deal of emotion and contemplation in me as I left the theater.

You may be one of many in the Western world who, like me, live in a sort of bubble. Except through the media or the occasional citing of a homeless person as I'm walking or driving, I'm not readily exposed to the impoverished and disenfranchised lifestyle of the majority of the world.

Most of us have times when we enter into that difficult world through a donation, or a day of volunteerism. However, I'm always thinking about what we can do with our physical resources, intellectual skills and our desires to make life better for those around us. This story is about someone who spends a few hours each week outside the bubble.

Ben is a retired professional in the Midwest. He shared with me his experiences over the past 18 years serving as an advocate with a national organization called CASA. Volunteers with CASA are court appointed special advocates for children. They are individuals in over 1,000 local chapters across the U.S, who make a difference in the lives of abused and neglected children.

Ben, outfitted with several books, picks up the children in his current assignment, 3 siblings, from their foster homes and heads for McDonalds where he engages in general conversation and reads to them ("Froggie Goes To School" is currently the favorite.) Ben doesn’t probe too deeply with questions, but rather tries to make the outing one of relaxed play while trying to create a safe atmosphere conducive to openness if the opportunity presents itself for a child to share their feelings.

The other dynamic of this work is for Ben to dialogue regularly with the others involved in the case: the deputy juvenile officer, teachers, and the foster parent or residential treatment facility supervisor they live with, etc. He takes his personal observations and those of the other professionals and writes reports of his findings and his recommendations for the court prior to the hearings regularly conducted for each minor.

Although judges tend to listen with great interest to Ben’s findings, they don’t always heed his suggestions, especially when it comes to custody matters. Advocates will sometimes see the judge order the child returned to a biological parent against the wishes of the advocate.

The Advocates most successful in their work are those who are able to balance their feelings of hope and loyalty for the children with the ability to avoid being overly attached or invested emotionally in the outcome. Their investment of time is significant....weekly visits with the child as well as followup with others and the writing of the reports. This averages out to about 12-15 hours per month. CASA provides thorough screening and over thirty hours of training for their volunteers.

Currently serving on his 4th case, Ben feels he is adding value to someone’s life, but he doesn’t always get to see the results of his efforts. His first case lasted 10 years and he isn't sure where the young man is now or what has become of his life. But Ben knows his work has an impact of some merit in the life of the children he is assigned to, and is appreciated by the other professionals and the judicial system.

Why does he do it? He has a burden for disadvantaged children lost in the system and wants to do what he can to help them. Thank you, Ben, for your example to all of us and for reaching outside your comfort zone to others in need.

"Whatever time you have to devote to a child, it’s more than that child has ever had. You don’t need any special skills. It’s all about caring and common sense.
"~ Sue and Steve Forestadt,
 CASA Volunteers

More information about the valuable work of CASA can be found at:

Photo: Jozsef Szasz-Fabian/

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