This month we shine our spotlight on Advocate Helen Vollero!
Helen found herself at a time in her life when she was divorced, and her two children were in college. She now had more time to give back to her community and had a heart for children. She started exploring different volunteer opportunities and this is when she first learned about CASA. Then out of the blue, two of her friends called her at separate times to ask her if she had ever heard of CASA. She knew then that this volunteer opportunity was for her. That day she signed up for an information session and after attending this session and learning more about CASA, she thought to herself, that there was no better place to spend her time.
She started working with her CASA youth when he was seven years old. He had lived in a car and never learned how to brush his teeth, shower, or use the restroom. He was unable to articulate his feelings which led to suicidal ideation and aggressive behavior towards staff. She would only see him in person one time, right when the pandemic hit, and would not see him again in person for another year.
In the beginning she would visit her CASA youth together with his sibling and the sibling’s CASA. This was needed in the beginning due to his age and the situation. It was easier to bond with him in a group setting and because of this, he was able to become more comfortable with her. According to staff at his placement, he now looks forward to their one-on-one outings. Helen tries to do things with him that bring joy to his life, like going to the beach, boogie boarding and going on the Balboa Beach ferry. She describes that her greatest success with her CASA youth was just being able to bond and create a relationship with him. He is now able to open up to her, he seems to handle his emotions better and articulate his feelings more with all the counseling he has received.
For Helen, the most important things to remember about being a CASA is being there for your youth, being consistent and remembering that it is all about them. For Helen, it is important to make sure her CASA youth knows there will be at least one person in his life that will not let him down, someone he knows will always be there.
Her greatest challenge and least favorite part about being a CASA is working within the limitations of the foster care system. Wanting so badly for positive things to happen and accepting when these things are not always possible has been hard. Knowing that her CASA youth has such high needs and has moved so many times is frustrating. She is frustrated with the lack of placement options for a child with his needs, how slow things move and how long decisions take to be made, the many holes in the system and all the balls that get dropped. It is heartbreaking for her, but she perseveres.
When asked what advice she would offer to other CASAs, she urges them to continue to educate themselves with all the options available; take advantage of the resources CASA has to offer, go to CASA to CASA events where you can learn from and share ideas with other CASAs, read books off the CASA book list. There is so much that a CASA can learn.
She encourages every CASA to look for the good in any situation. There are hard times with her CASA youth; but he is adventurous, brave, funny, energetic, resilient, and a fashionista. If she can help him channel those good things, that would be a blessing. Helping him to see the positives in himself and in life will change the way he sees himself and the world. Helen wishes she can make a difference in the lives of all the children in the foster care system, but knows she is making a difference with this one child.
Being in this season of her life, all the changes have been a blessing to her because it allows her to do something meaningful and important. She has grown so much. Learning about what is going on in her community, her own backyard has changed her perspective. She described how once you go through training and learn more in depth about the situation these children face, you cannot “unknow” what you learned and that it is happening in your own backyard. This knowledge propels her ever forward and motivates her to make sure her youth has everything he needs to be a happy and thriving child.
Helen's Case Supervisor, Kari Becker, shares: “I have had the pleasure of supervising Helen on her case for a little over 1.5 years. When I first met Helen, I could tell how compassionate and caring she was. I knew instantly that she was a natural fit for CASA and without a doubt would be a strong voice for one of our children. Helen's case has been a tough, heart-wrenching, especially for a little guy that is only 8 years old! However, even through the pandemic, Helen has been relentless in advocating for him. Whether it has been through her consistently showing up to every visit, CASA court reports, and any all team meetings related to her child. Helen always comes with great input and insight to her child's needs. She has gained the respect and admiration from those professionals involved in her case. They know exactly who to go to and listen to as they appreciate her suggestions, thoughts, and concerns. I know Helen will continue to thrive in her role. Keep up the fantastic work, Helen!"