This month we shine our spotlight on Advocate Kathleen Fiedler!
Kathleen always wanted to give back to her community in some way, but never had the time to fully dedicate herself to a meaningful cause. Once her two boys went off to college, she had some free time to volunteer. Being a mother of two boys has only helped her to better navigate her CASA relationship with her youth. She knows not to act as a parent, and rather uses her experience as a guide and integrates certain activities that her sons enjoyed growing up into her CASA outings. She was sworn-in at CASA in August 2018, and is currently on her second case. Her first case made a significant impact on her life and she developed an irreplaceable bond with her youth.
Kathleen was first matched with a young, apprehensive 9 year-old boy named Dylan*. At the start of Dylan and Kathleen’s CASA relationship, Dylan was especially shy. During their outings, Kathleen would usually receive a head nod of “yes” or “no”. But sometimes, Kathleen would see a sparkle in his eyes when she came up with an idea that peaked his interest. When out together initially, he would look back over his shoulder about every 30 seconds just to make sure that Kathleen was still behind him. She would always reassure him that she was still there and her job was to keep him safe and, of course, to have fun on their outings!
Dylan grew up with three older siblings and a mother who was constantly homeless due to her mental health issues and drug addiction. He was secluded from the world and was not exposed to the normal experiences that a young boy his age should be exposed to. After being removed from their home, Dylan and his siblings were placed with their godmother. About a year after living with her, they had to go back to the emergency shelter when their godmother was unable to take care of them for sometime due to medical issues. When this happened, Kathleen made a point to see him every week. The support and comfort she gave him- knowing that she would continue to show up for him even through the toughest of times- showed him how much she truly cared about him and allowed him to really trust Kathleen at that point in their relationship. After a little over six months, Dylan finally started to open up to her.
Kathleen constantly tried to integrate some type of educational experience into each outing or, at the very least, get Dylan to try something he has never tried before. For example, Kathleen took him kayaking, to the tide pools, had a picnic, and explored the pet shop, Dana Point harbor, dog rescues, and laser tag- all these things he experienced for the first time with Kathleen. She taught him how to shake someone’s hand, introduce himself, use eye contact, and order at a restaurant. Kathleen knew Dylan needed to work on his math skills, so she gave him a notebook for him to take on every outing and she asked him to write down the expenses for each outing and she would let him calculate the total cost.
Kathleen also set rules and established boundaries right away. She let him know that she was not his ATM machine and emphasized the low to no cost outing ideas with him. He really wanted to do laser tag, so she explained to him that laser tag was more expensive and they would need to save up for something so special. Kathleen taught him how to budget and eventually they saved enough money to go do laser tag, which made it even more special and exciting to him.
Kathleen had two great successes on this case. The first success she recalls was when Dylan no longer feared dogs. Dylan was terrified of dogs, so Kathleen made a point to introduce him to smaller, friendlier animals (like bunnies) and eventually work up to bigger,more intimidating animals. In time, he learned how to approach a dog and ultimately, pet a dog. There was one moment that Kathleen especially remembers-Dylan hugged a German Shepard and the dog gave him a big slobbery kiss on his face. He looked at Kathleen with joy and she knew that was the moment he got over his fear of dogs. The second successful moment Kathleen recalls was when Dylan asked Kathleen to teach him how to float in the pool- he trusted her enough to ask her to teach him.
Kathleen’s greatest challenge as a CASA was when she first started and came into this role with an expectation that things would progress faster than they did. She learned that she needed to be patient and meet Dylan where he was at. Relationships and trust take time, especially when working with foster youth.
After 15 months with his CASA, Kathleen, Dylan’s godmother officially became the legal guardian to him and his three other siblings. The case is now closed, but Kathleen made sure to let him know that she will always be here for him no matter what. In fact, Kathleen has been putting a photo album together for Dylan of the time they spent together. She plans to surprise him with this photo album sometime soon when they see each other for the first time since the closing of his case.
Kathleen feels that her experience at CASA would not be as amazing as it has been without the guidance and support from her case supervisor, Cindy. Cindy always has low-cost outing suggestions and is able to put things in perspective for Kathleen. She is grateful to her case supervisor and emphasized the importance of this relationship for all CASAs. Kathleen’s advice to other CASAs is to always be consistent, show up and meet your youth where they are at.
Kathleen's Case Supervisor, Cindy Nydell, shares this about her: "Kathleen was matched with her first youth on 9/7/18. She did a fantastic job in working with her youth to teach him about many different things but more importantly took him out into the community to do things he had never done before. She always made sure that he was comfortable during each outing and helped him to get over some of his fears. He was lucky to have Kathleen as his CASA until the case closed. Kathleen is now matched with her second youth. I am so thankful to have Kathleen on my caseload and it is a joy to see her helping our youth.”
*Name changed to protect confidentiality