This month we shine our spotlight on Advocate Anne Haraksin!
Whether having an impact in a broad sense or working one-on-one with a child in need, helping others is what makes Anne the happiest. She strives to live a service-oriented and purposeful life. As a professional, Anne works for a local city contributing to the betterment of the community and as a volunteer, she participated in a mentoring program for a one-on-one experience of helping others. In the spring of 2019 Anne was doing research about other volunteer programs when she came across CASA’s mission statement; she immediately felt drawn to it. Anne said that CASA’s nexus to the court system and the potential impact in the life of a child helped her realize that a CASA volunteer is more than a mentor and that was exactly what Anne was looking for.
After completing the required protocols to become a CASA volunteer, Anne was matched with *Evan, a teen boy. It was a perfect match because Evan had a male CASA previously, but he was waiting to be matched again and this time he had requested a female CASA. Meanwhile Mary, who grew up having five older brothers and lives a very active lifestyle, was hoping to be matched with a teen boy. In stating her preferences for the matching team, Anne specified that she wanted to be able to dialogue with her CASA youth and be relatable to him. Anne considers that the matching team did a fantastic job in matching her and Evan together.
Intentional and active listening has been a bonding conduit for Anne and Evan. Anne also points out that music has been key. She lets him play his diverse choices of music and then they talk about the lyrics. She pays special attention to the stories he tells while listening to his music. Allowing Evan to share his interests with her seems to help him feel safe and accepted. Ann is careful not to come across as judgmental when he shares his interests which helps him feel safe and free to open up. Anne enjoys being a CASA very much and not being able to see Evan in person during the stay-at-home orders was a great challenge. It was very difficult to know he was struggling with isolation without being able to be there for him in a tangible way.
Although a newer CASA, Anne is finding her own mentoring style. She is open minded and allows him to be himself while encouraging him to try new things. Even through COVID-19, Anne tries to be present through consistent visits and texts to check in. Anne has shown Evan that she is dependable through her consistency and her goal for Evan for him to know that he matters. At age 17, Evan has been in foster care for five years so it is truly a gift for him to know that he matters.
In terms of accomplishments in her case, Anne feels confident that after a year of consistency in visitation, she has been able to establish a solid relationship with Evan. This level of trust leads him to open up and share his thoughts and life stories, interests, and goals, so that Anne is able to build him up and point him in the right direction. Anne warmly says this about Evan, “He is such a good kid and I feel blessed to hang out with him. He is resourceful and resilient.” As she has been able to be a friend to Evan, Anne has also been able to be his voice. Recently during a team meeting she brought up the idea of providing a keyboard to help Evan cope with the isolation of COVID-19. In turn, the team made it happen and the keyboard has been a source of comfort for Evan to be able to express himself through music. Anne emphasized the importance of attending team meetings to be the voice of the child. She knows that Evan values her presence at these meetings and that resources can be accessed more effectively with the help of a CASA.
To encourage other CASAs, Anne would like to share that building a solid relationship with your CASA youth takes time. It does not happen overnight. It requires time, intentionality, tenacity to keep reaching, and awareness that you may be the only person reaching out to this youth. It’s important to express care so that they know that they matter. Anne goes on to express that for her youth, COVID triggered depression and at times he would not text back, but she did not give up in reaching out to let him know that he matters. Anne felt deeply rewarded when he would initiate the text or FaceTime.
Knowing that she is helping a child who has gone through much adversity during his formative years is what Anne likes the most about being a CASA. Anne is learning to appreciate other aspects of the CASA role - the behind the scenes responsibilities - which are just as important such as completing continuing education training and writing court reports. The overall CASA experience helps Anne feel a sense of purpose and, although it may sound “corny” Ann said, CASA helps her to have a more service-oriented and purposeful life.
When asked for a final word for our readers, Ann simply said “Dive in! You may be nervous or apprehensive, but don’t be afraid. Just jump right in!”
Anne’s case supervisor, Donna Doocy, shares this about her, “Anne has been a very diligent and conscientious CASA. She and her youth seemed to get along well from the start. She has always been faithful in seeing him twice a month and checking in when he needed it. During the pandemic she also was diligent in checking on him as well and made sure he did not feel alone. Anne's documentation and Court reports are always on time and she is a joy to work with.”
*Name changed to protect confidentiality.