An Eye-Opening Experience
By Garin Friedman
Entering my sophomore year of high school, I began my involvement with CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates). CASA assigns kids in the foster care system an"advocate" to be there and fight for the well-being of foster children as well as help them with anything a parent would similarly help their children. When I learned about this organization, I was a little hesitant to become involved. I was worried about how I would handle the incredibly sad stories of what these kids go through and align that with how fortunate I am. But I am involved in an impactful way, and it was one of the best decisions of my life.
Casting aside my hesitation, I started a club at my school called "Kids For CASA" to help the CASA organization spread awareness, raise money, help set up for events, and allocate funds. By doing this, it will help allow CASA to support and promote court-appointed advocates for abused or neglected children to provide children with a safe and healthy environment in permanent homes.Without a safe environment, how could one even have the ability to succeed in life? Having to worry about basic needs is not the job of a child, but without parents, they have no choice. I want to help give them that choice, that choice I had growing up. An equal opportunity everyone deserves.
To help, Kids For CASA sold backpacks for 75 dollars at CASA's annual GALA in Orange County,California. The backpacks were stuffed with school supplies and a Target gift card that would be passed out to kids in the CASA system. Realizing the dread and annoyance I gave my mom having to go to the store and pick up school supplies, made me think these kids would kill to be able to go with their mom to Target and pick out the supplies they wanted. Upon presenting the backpacks to the members of the CASA organization, explaining what was in each, and where the money raised would go, they went flying off the shelves. We reached our goal of selling all 300 backpacks and raised 22,500 dollars. We did it for two years totaling 45,000 dollars in donations.
Another inspiring event was the Pinwheel Project. CASA displayed 3,100 pinwheels on a grass field, 500 red, 250 white, and 2,350 blue representing the number of kids in the foster care system. A red pinwheel represented the children CASA serves, white represented the number of kids on our wait list, and blue represented all of the other children in the Orange County Foster Care System. We stood around the pinwheels, and as people walked by, we helped spread awareness of what it all meant. After explaining to them about the pinwheel and seeing different peoples reactions, it made me think of what this means. I concluded that there are so many kids, living in the same community as me, that don't have the support and guidance that parents give. As high school came to a close, I didn't want to stop there. CASA has impacted my life way too much to stop after graduation.
When I arrived at Indiana University, I felt freedom for a while, but then once I had to start doing my laundry, get my food, clean up my room, and not have anyone to bring me soup when I wasn't feeling well made me realize that kids in the foster care system have never had any of that. Realizing this accelerated the process of me starting Kids For CASA at IU. With the support of my fraternity and friends, I launched Kids For CASA and got an incredible backing. In about a week, I had over 100 kids join compared to the 30 I had in high school. The Monroe County CASA welcomed me with open arms.
The first event Kids For CASA helped at was CASA's dine and donate at a local pizza shop called Aver's. When I went to Aver's Pizza, it was outside of the IU part of the city.It was apart of the real Bloomington community. I walked in with 13 of my friends, and right away, a kind lady comes up to us and asks, "please say you're with CASA." That support showed me that the community truly cares about CASA also, I have the backing from not only my classmates and friends but the community as a whole.
The last experience I am going to touch on brought everything, in reality, the CASA Luncheon. I have never heard a full speech from an advocate, and never even seen a CASA child, but at this luncheon, I got to listen to both tell their stories. Hearing them talk put a true perspective on life in general. It gave me the chills. Here was a person around the same age as I stand up in front of a crowd of over a hundred people and share a story of her life. A story that entailed details no human should ever encounter. She touched on the impact of what CASA has done for her, which made me realize all this time and energy I have put into this organization the past four years is for the right cause.
Kids for CASA changed my values and perspective on life. Instead of having the value of leadership, I have switched to compassionate leadership. There are two different types of leaders, those that think only one way with a firm set of unbreakable rules, and there are leaders who see and try to understand the other side. CASA has moved me to that other side, the right side. Also, it has shown me that not everyone is born with equal opportunity. I am fortunate to be allowed to join this extraordinary organization, one that has humbled me, made me more responsible, and well-rounded. It has helped me see life outside of my hometown bubble and explore and give back. I have a much greater appreciation for all the little things I get to experience with my family and friends, such as safety, encouragement, support, and love. All these things, everyone should be able to attain. Now let us continue to make this city, this community, and this world a place where everyone gets the opportunity to become who they wan tto become.