CASA Spotlight: John Shimada

Amidst a steady stream of Facebook posts about puppies, sunsets and politics, an ad for CASA OC popped up. John Shimada’s wife, Lisa, saw it and said to her husband, “You should do this!” Within a few months John signed up to attend an information session, went through training, and was sworn-in as an advocate. A few months later, Lisa did the same and now they are both CASAs matched with a youth in foster care.

The world of foster care was not completely new to John since he had previously volunteered at a summer camp for youth in foster care. The timing for a new, longer term volunteer commitment was ideal since John’s four children were grown and out of the house and he had recently retired from his career as an attorney.

John felt that his CASA training helped prepare him for the complexities of the foster care system and helped him, “navigate the lay of the land.” Although he didn’t practice family law, John said, “my career as an attorney helped prepare me a bit for writing court reports.”

John met *Matt when he was 13. At first it seemed they would have little in common, but they found they had a shared love of Marvel movies and spent their first visit comparing notes about their favorite Marvel characters and movies. They have now been together for 3.5 years and have seen many Marvel films together. John and Matt also enjoy playing board and card games together and going on hikes. 

As an Educational Rights Holder, John has responsibilities and rights to advocate for Matt at his school that extend beyond the role of a traditional CASA. He attends Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings and advocates for additional assessments. John is trying to guide Matt towards finishing high school and preparing to live independently.

California’s Extended Foster Care (EFC) Program allows a youth to remain in the foster care system until they turn 21 if they choose to do so. This offers a youth transitioning into adulthood a safety net of services and as Matt approaches his 18th birthday, John has been encouraging him to take advantage of this opportunity.

Much of their time together is spent teaching life skills; John has taught Matt how to open a checking account and maintain a checkbook register. He explained the difference between a credit card and bank account and shared that, “the entire concept of charging interest was new to Matt.”

The challenges facing youth in the foster care system were dramatically illustrated when John shared the hurdles Matt faced trying to get a job. First he needed to secure a work permit which he could not do without a social security card. To secure a social security card, Matt would need to obtain his first California ID at DMV. But before he could do that, it took months to track down Matt’s birth certificate which originated in another state. Without a supportive adult in his life, Matt’s pathway would have been almost insurmountable. 

When asked to reflect on his experience as a CASA, John expresses gratitude for the opportunity. He says, “I wasn’t sure what to expect. There have been challenges but I feel like we have a good relationship. Matt even came to me for relationship advice when he had his first girlfriend last year.” He added, “ I appreciate having something meaningful to do with my time now that I’m retired and hope my youth will look back in a few years and feel I’ve had some influence on his life.”

John stands out amongst his CASA peers as he was nominated by two different case supervisors for his work. His current supervisor Nicole Han had this to say about John, ”Being a CASA is not for the faint of heart. It takes patience, dedication, and being purposeful with our actions to make a positive difference. John embodies all these things, as he is always there for his youth, through the good and the bad. He is also a fierce advocate when it comes to his youth's education. But what I admire most about John is that he shows his youth unconditional love and support, always taking the time to listen and teach life skills. Thank you John for all the hard work you put in as a CASA, you are truly appreciated."

*Name changed to preserve privacy

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