This month we shine our spotlight on Advocate Ellie Karimi!
As a child, Ellie Karimi felt she did not have a voice and that having an advocate to be her voice was very challenging due to her culture and upbringing in Iran. She admits that as a teenager, she had a pessimistic view of life until she had an epiphany which made her realize that she was her own advocate with the ability to help others find their voice. Ellie says that she stopped focusing on herself and became a person who could help others. As an adult, she began looking for various opportunities to be a voice for others. That’s when she encountered CASA of Orange County for the first time. Ellie says that she was blown away by its mission. At the same time, she was a bit scared thinking that perhaps she would not be able to connect with the children, nonetheless, she decided to keep looking into it. She vividly remembers hearing at the information session that this volunteer opportunity was not a short term commitment with instant gratification. She knew that if she were to be successful, she would need to be patient and deliberate, not pushy or hasty in the process of developing a relationship with the child.
Armed with courage and excitement to fulfill her purpose of being a voice for others, Ellie did her first file read. The file presented *Ricky, her first CASA child, in an unflattering way. In contrast, Ellie remembers being delighted when she finally met Ricky in person. He was a sweet and energetic eight-year-old boy. Ellie and *Ricky quickly made a connection at the initial visit when he grabbed her hand and invited her to jump on the backyard trampoline. Guided by her philosophy to patiently and deliberately find moments to connect, she let him to lead the way in cultivating their relationship. She would ask him to teach her things. In turn, she would compliment him for his skills and efforts. This meant that Ellie was fully engaged in their conversations and activities. Ellie says that Ricky “absorbed” her compliments which helped him grow in self-confidence. Ellie’s style of finding strengths to build upon also worked with *Ana, her second CASA child who had speech and language challenges. Ellie would tell Ana how brave she was for trying this or that until “brave” became part of Ana’s vocabulary. The best part of all this is that Ana began to see herself as a brave person. Because Ellie firmly believes that children are always listening and absorbing information, she would tell Ana stories about brave individuals who were able to overcome obstacles. Ellie says that the trick is to pay attention to what the children are doing and saying so that one can find their strengths to build them up. That is exactly what Ellie is striving to do as she begins to connect with her third CASA child, a sweet 9 year old with significant mental health and medical needs.
Ellie knows that besides connecting with the child, she also needs to collaborate with others in the child’s team, including parents and professionals. During difficult moments, Ellie has been able to maintain a calm, compassionate, and collaborative attitude which has allowed her to build bridges. Whether working with a guarded parent, a reluctant caregiver, or staff from a group home, Ellie also tries to practice authenticity and collaboration. She says that she tries not to take things personally, but stays curious, practices self-talk, and educates herself.
Spending time with the kids and seeing their smiles are some of Ellie’s favorite aspects of being a CASA. Ellie also knows that each case also comes with its own set of challenges, but that is also part of being a CASA.
Ellie believes that being a CASA, a voice for others, has helped her grow in her personal life. She says that there is personal growth that happens when she takes the time to put her own problems in the right perspective. Ellie’s advice to her fellow CASAs is to be patient and consistent and to believe that children are open to receive genuine love and affection, even if their expression sometimes does not show it. Ellie also wants to remind us that what she first heard at the info session six years ago, remains true: immediate gratification is not a realistic expectation. In closing, Ellie appreciates the support and guidance her case supervisor, Karyn Quick, has provided over the years, especially the times when she just needs a “shoulder to cry on.”
Ellie’s Case Supervisor, Karyn Quick, shares this about her:
"Ellie has been a CASA for six years this month, happy anniversary. She has worked on three cases, each one being quite unique. Her current case has been difficult as her little girl has a lot of special needs we were not aware of. Ellie has approached this case with compassion, empathy, and love. Even with this difficult case, she can find the positives with all the frustrations of this case. I’ve had the great pleasure working with Ellie for six years. CASA is very lucky to have her."
*Name changed to protect confidentiality.