This month we shine our spotlight on Advocate Barbara Prince!
“Sometimes I think they make me better.” Barbara Prince, CASA of three years, refers to the two boys she’s been assigned to during that time. “I think I’ve been given an opportunity to see how different these kids are; what these kids have gone through to get to where they are today. I’ve learned a lot about them, and I’ve learned a lot about me.”
Barbara’s first child assignment, Cody,* was eleven when she first met him in the fall of 2016. On their first visit, Cody was very quiet and didn't talk to her. She had learned from CASA training to expect this, but still knew she needed to do something differently in order to engage him. At the end of their visit, they made a plan for their second visit: pumpkin carving. When the day of their second visit finally arrived, Barbara was prepared. She came stocked with pumpkins, carving utensils, and all the other goodies needed to have some fun carving pumpkins. She saw Cody come out of his shell a bit. She noticed that, as they each sat next to each other, working with their hands on a project together, Cody felt more at ease to talk. He connected with her more and seemed to enjoy himself! After that second visit, the rest of their visits went smoothly, with him always looking forward to seeing her. While they would enjoy outings together like seeing a movie, or going miniature golfing, Barbara’s real focus was on craft projects. She has learned that this is the way to get her youth to talk with her and engage. Even though many of us may not think of doing crafts with a young boy, Barbara has found some creative ideas that work! From making Mother’s Day cards, to painting Easter eggs, to decorating Easter cookies, she has found that both her boys have enjoyed these activities. Perhaps the most creative idea involved a calendar and some fruit! Barbara shared with Cody a calendar she had, that showed a different animal for each month, carved out of food! That prompted a trip to the grocery store, shopping for the right fruits and vegetables, and then carving them into animals just like the calendar. Cody loved the activity, and loved the time he spent with Barbara, talking and crafting - it was a win-win.
Distance of a different kind, not emotional but proximity, was one of Barbara’s biggest challenges with Cody. When she accepted his case, he was placed in Los Angeles county with a relative. While Barbara didn’t love the idea of driving to LA, she figured that making that drive is something not many CASAs can commit to, and with her being retired, she wanted to be the one that could. Cody’s placement went back and forth from Orange County to LA a few times, and each time she followed him. For those of us reading this and thinking that Barbara is a saint to commit to an LA case, let’s just up the ante a bit. Because of a busy family schedule, Cody’s caregiver restricted Barbara’s visits to a certain day and time of the week: Friday afternoons. Sometimes Barbara would spend two to three times the amount of time getting there and coming home from visits, as the time she would actually spend with him on a visit. At first she figured all the driving wouldn’t be a big deal since she was retired. But it was a big deal. An exhausting and frustrating big deal that took away from the time she could spend with Cody. Another challenge she faced was of a more serious nature. Cody had a congenital AV shunt, which is an abnormal connection between an artery and a vein, which is something like having a vein that doesn’t mature. Cody had seizures, was on medication, and had probably about five different brain surgeries. The most recent of his surgeries was during the time Barbara was assigned to him. Cody’s surgery was performed at the hospital that Barbara actually retired from, so she was given some special privileges to be in the pre-op area with him, and in recovery, and also to visit him every day. She marveled at how brave he was throughout the entire process. She saw a maturity in him that was unusual for his age. He’d had so many surgeries that this was just another one. Being able to be there for him during this time was one of Barbara’s most special contributions to Cody. He was obviously wowed by all the people that knew her and would come and say hello to her, and then stick around to talk with him. Being able to be there every day for him in an environment she was so familiar with, and to make his experience a little more cheerful, meant the world to her.
Barbara has also looked for other ways to leave a lasting impact on her boys. During each outing, she would take pictures of their activity. Pictures to document all their mini-adventures and all the things her boys were trying for the first time. “What I’ve learned is that one thing the kids don’t have is pictures.” Imagine a childhood not punctuated by photos containing memories of where you’d been, what you tried, and what you looked like as each year went by? Barbara saw the gap this left, and the importance of her boys having their very own pictures to document their childhood experiences. So she made sure to take photos each time, and then she took those photos and put together a scrapbook. The book was kept in her car and one thing she noticed each time either of her boys got in the car, is that they would pull out the book, open it, and look at all the pictures. This became a ritual. They didn’t talk much; they just opened the book, started at the beginning, and flipped through page by page of pictures and memories. For most of our kids, there is not a lot in their lives that they can count on. There often isn’t concrete evidence of the joy and goodness in their lives. What Barbara created for them is a reminder, that she’s there to share in these experiences with them; that they really had these moments of happiness and they are documented forever for them to remember, and perhaps a glimpse of what others see when looking at them: A sweet and joyful young boy.
Barbara’s supervisor, Kari Becker, shares this about Barbara:
"It's been an absolute pleasure working alongside Barbara! I have witnessed the growth and development of her and her youth's CASA relationship via a memory scrapbook that Barbara has made for him. It is so neat and special to see all the fun things they do together. As we know, children in the foster care system come from very disruptive homes, and their memories are just that; but what Barbara has done for her youth highlights the importance of a CASA. A special person who creates new and positive memories in the midst of a very dark system. And I am sure her youth will forever remember her and the impact she has had on his life."
*Name changed to protect confidentiality.