This month we shine our spotlight on Advocate Kimberly Der!
Timing is everything as proven by Kimberly’s seemingly short lived CASA experience.
In 2012 Kimberly felt God was calling her to do volunteer work. Interestingly, CASA kept popping up in her radar over and over again and feeling curious about the program, Kimberly decided to check it out. Info night was powerful and offered a good fit for the kind of volunteer work she was looking to do in her season of life at the time.
After completing her training in 2012, Kimberly was matched with *Jackie, a 9-year old girl whose favorite thing to do was eating in the car. Kimberly recalls that Jackie was a tough kid with no one to visit her at the emergency shelter where she lived. The opportunity to bond with Jackie came when Kimberly took her to a fall festival where she coached Jackie to hit the bull’s eye. Sadly, after only five months on the case, Jackie’s case jurisdiction transferred to another county, thus ending Kimberly’s first CASA appointment.
After this short assignment, Kimberly’s focus in life shifted. She went to Africa to do missionary work, got married, and began a family. It was a new and full season of life. Six years went by. It was 2018 when she received a call from CASA. Once again, CASA presented a volunteer opportunity uniquely suited to Kimberly’s season of life. She was happy to learn that as a Family Connections volunteer, Kimberly could do volunteer work from home while her young children napped. It was a perfect fit with perfect timing.
As a Family Connections volunteer, Kimberly recalls a “snapshot” moment in her current case when she started connecting with relatives who did not know a child in their family was in foster care. After the initial work of identifying relatives and sending letters, the phone started ringing off the hook. Kimberly remembers the social worker being pleasantly surprised that relatives had been found and were coming forward. For Kimberly, it was rewarding to find people who were open and interested in connecting with their young family member.
As with every worthy endeavor, there are challenges. For Kimberly as a Family Connections advocate, the greatest fear is rejection. It can be discouraging not hearing back from relatives because they are not interested in connecting with the child . It can also be intimidating to pick up the phone and wonder who is on the other end of the line. Making cold calls and starting conversations with total strangers can be difficult as well, but Kimberly pushes through all these challenges.
Kimberly’s internal motivation to keep going is fueled by her initial CASA/Family Connections training and her ongoing continued education on issues surrounding children in foster care. She remembers a particular documentary of a young person who was needlessly kept in foster care. The young person in the documentary said, “There were people out there, and I didn’t know.” This quote stuck with Kimberly and is the reason why she is a Family Connections volunteer. Kimberly says, “Kids have no idea that they have family out there. How cool is it that these adults have the ability to change their lives!”
Being a Family Connections volunteer offers flexibility to advocate from home and because Kimberly is a mom with young children, this is a big plus for her. In fact, this interview was conducted while her little ones were napping! Kimberly shares that being a Family Connections advocate gives her an avenue to do impactful work and to have a focus to serve others outside her role as a mom. She enjoys utilizing her skills and the feeling of having a project of her own. The hard moments come after the initial efforts are completed, waiting for people to respond, running into dead ends, or hearing a rejection from family. Her various Family Connection cases have had different outcomes that motivate Kimberly to continue to do good in the midst of bleak statistics for children in foster care. Connecting families and helping facilitate family engagement opportunities are exciting and positive experiences.
Her advice for CASAs is to consider if Family Connections is a way they can remain active in doing good in the world; being a family connections advocate is meaningful volunteer work. Kimberly went on to share, “Are there life changes? Talk to your Case Supervisor to find other avenues to help. Take a break if needed, but choose to give out to others. It’s amazing what you can do one hour a week. An hour a week can have such a drastic impact in a family.”
Our conversation with Kimberly concluded just as her little ones were waking up from their nap proving that timing is indeed everything.
Kimberly’s Case Supervisor, Sylvia Novakoff, shares this about her: “After a multi-year absence from CASA, Kimberly returned and trained to be a Family Connections advocate. In 2018 she hit the ground running. She is on her third sibling case and has impacted nine young lives so far. Juggling the care of two small children at home, Kimberly is organized, calm, and undaunted in her simultaneous role as an advocate for our youth and a partner to their family members. She operates from a place of compassion and urgency that serves our program well. I am honored to have her on my team.”
*Name changed to protect confidentiality