This month we shine our spotlight on Advocate Florence Lehavi!
Florence Lehavi has been a CASA volunteer since 2016. She became interested in learning about CASA and how she can get involved about 10 years ago when her friend invited her to the annual CASA Holiday Luncheon. Florence thought “it was an amazing idea for these kids to have an extra person, with no agenda other than the best interest of the child, involved in their lives”. She could not commit to CASA at the time, but once her daughter was older, Florence quickly completed the 30 hours of training and started a journey that would change her life forever.
CASA challenged her from the very beginning with her first case being described as “always challenging”. Florence first met *Nicole when she was 16 years old. Nicole had a very hard time trusting people, primarily because her parents completely abandoned her and she got involved in gang life shortly thereafter. The father of her first child was a gang member and she tended to use drugs and run away from her placement frequently. Nicole tested her often, but Florence did not give in and was able to set boundaries right away. During one of their first outings, Nicole showed up high and Florence could tell she was under the influence. She firmly let Nicole know that she would not allow their outings to take place if she was under the influence. Nicole never showed up high again. Though Nicole had a tough attitude and never said thank you during their outings, Florence consistently showed up and never showed judgment. Florence’s relationship with Nicole was not easy and it took a lot of time to develop, but Florence was able to eventually gain her trust. Nicole eventually started to share things with Florence that she would never consider sharing with her foster parents. Florence learned how important it was to establish trust and boundaries in order to teach her respect and appreciation.
Originally, Nicole told Florence that she wanted to go to Santa Ana College and do something with television in her future. That dream eventually faded and Florence’s focus shifted to just helping her graduate high school. Nicole had an IEP and really struggled in school. Florence became her Educational Rights Holder after some time on the case- Nicole had no one else in her corner. Florence went to all her meetings at the school and made sure not to make any decisions without talking to her first. She listened to her needs and wants; and, when Nicole asked to go to a continuation school, Florence made sure that that would happen for her. Florence’s greatest success on this case was seeing Nicole graduate from high school. At the time, it felt nearly impossible, but as her advocate, Florence persevered until she got the job done. Nicole emancipated as soon as she turned 18, but she has her CASA to thank for making the impossible possible.
When Florence was reassigned to another case, she had no trouble developing a trusting relationship with *Alex. Alex really wanted a CASA and was excited to meet Florence. Shortly after they met, Alex came out to his mom. His mom thought he was possessed by demons and wanted to perform an exorcism on him. His mom dropped him off at the Orangewood emergency shelter because she simply did not want to care for him anymore. He was rejected by his entire family. Alex became very depressed and started to use drugs, drink alcohol, and run away from the group home. It was heartbreaking for Florence to see him this way, so she decided to do something about it. She wanted to find something for him to do to get his mind off everything that had caused him so much pain in his life. With help from CASA, Florence signed him up for guitar lessons. He loves playing his guitar and music has been very therapeutic for him. When the court recently terminated family reunification services, Alex moved to a family friend’s place. He enjoys living there and calls his caregivers mom and dad and the two boys in the home his brothers. He is stable and currently receiving all A’s in school.
Florence started her CASA role with high expectations, but quickly learned that she had to adjust accordingly to meet youth where they are at. As a CASA, Florence shares how important it is to remain a constant in the youth’s life and to not take anything personally. Florence’s time as a CASA thus far has taught her the importance of understanding other people’s culture and she has learned how to be more accepting of others.
Florence’s favorite part about being a CASA is the time that she gets to spend with her CASA youth. Whether it is watching scary movies together, talking about life, or just grabbing a bite to eat, the quality time spent with them is what makes being a CASA some memorable to Florence.
Florence's Case Supervisor, Maureen Madison, shares this about her:
"Florence has been a CASA for over 3.5 years and is on her second case. She does a great job advocating for her youth's needs and making sure that he is happy in his placement, keeping up in school and that he has the opportunity to participate in activities outside of school. She also makes a point of encouraging her youth to make healthy choices in life. Her court attendance is stellar and she's always ready and willing to give a report to the judge and to represent her youth's perspective to the social worker. Florence takes her youth on interesting outings, exposing him to experiences he would otherwise not have. Great job, Florence!"
*Name changed to protect confidentiality.