This month we shine our spotlight on Advocate Larry Wright!
Before becoming a CASA, Larry volunteered in a mentoring program through his church and he also had connections with professionals involved in helping foster youth who would share with him about the plight of children who are in the dependency system and their need for mentors and advocates. Yet, Larry found through CASA that there is still so much more to learn about the world of foster care. He describes his CASA experience by saying, “Starting at the bottom, I am climbing the advocate hill and planting the flag at the top.” This metaphor reflects Larry’s style in his CASA journey.
One of his first experiences in climbing the advocate hill had to do with establishing his role and expectations with his CASA youth’s caregivers. You see, Larry had assumed that the caregivers were fully aware of his CASA role. It was his first hill to climb, and he did it successfully. Larry shares that the caregivers were very sincere and were not simply trying to be difficult. He eliminated the fog of confusion by taking the time to explain his role again. He showed them the CASA brochure again and explained the do’s and don’ts of CASAs. There would be other hills to climb, but Larry knew that to be successful, he would need to make sure not to assume anything. Larry goes on to share that in his professional life, he was the decision maker and the guy in charge of things. However in his CASA role, Larry has taken to heart the wise counsel his CASA case supervisor gave him at the start of the case - to take time to get to know his CASA youth and the team.
When describing his relationship with Joshua*, his CASA youth, Larry says that they hit it off from the beginning because Joshua is a pleasant young man with great potential. Larry recalls reading in the file about Joshua’s mental health challenges and multiple psychiatric hospitalizations and the potential challenges he would encounter working with such a youth. However, Larry also knew that “the file is not the kid” so he was pleasantly surprised when he met Joshua in person. It has been a pleasure working with Joshua; nonetheless, Larry sees the trauma and its effects in Joshua’s life.
Being child-focused as he continues to climb the advocate hill, Larry humbly prefers to use the phrase “steps forward” to describe successes in his case. One step forward involves Larry’s advocacy to bring attention to medical issues that were not being properly addressed. He advocated for Joshua by working with the team to be patient with the youth, to allow him time and space, and to encourage him in his horse therapy plan. Another step forward involved coordinating educational resources which resulted in improved behavior at school and awareness of school issues. Now Joshua is feeling supported, is much more comfortable at school, and was even been elected to the associated student body which gave him the opportunity to give a speech. Because Joshua is almost 17 years old, Larry is also pursuing steps forward in the area of independent living skills and says that Joshua is “rock and rolling” Orangewood resources. One key component in Larry’s ability to take steps forward is his attitude toward the youth’s team members. Larry assumes the best from them and believes that everyone is doing their best. He is non-judgmental toward the various parties. Being mindful of Joshua's trauma and needs, Larry also finds extremely helpful all the training that CASA provides to help him understand trauma and its effects. His approach as a mentor is not to interrogate Joshua, but to listen. Larry often helps Joshua think of his worth, his potential, and his future by visualizing his life and thinking of a plan to execute his goals. In affirming Joshua’s dreams, Larry also capitalizes on opportunities to subtly say, “By the way, can we work on your math skills?” A funny story Larry likes to share is the one when Joshua first met him. Joshua thought that Larry was a senior detective and that he, Joshua, was on parole! It’s a funny story and they laugh about it, but Larry also sees this as an example of the need to not assume anything. Because of this, he reinforces often to Joshua that his role is to be his advocate and mentor and to encourage trust and open communication. Because some of the best communication takes place while you drive, Larry recalls a sweet moment in the car when Joshua turned to him and said, “We are a team.” Needless to say that Joshua no longer believes he is on parole!
Larry feels grateful for all the learning opportunities CASA alone provides and would like to encourage his fellow CASAs on their journey. He would like them to remember two things: “One is that you have to really be a listener - focus on that. A problem solver attitude needs to be put aside. You really have to listen!” The other word or advice Larry gives is three-fold, “Be reliable, be trustworthy, and be consistent.” In his experience, Larry tries to keep his word to Joshua and does not play it off against others.
Being Joshua’s friend and mentor is Larry’s favorite part of being a CASA. Larry says that spending time with Joshua and enjoying casual outings has shown him that Joshua is nothing like the description he read in the file. As with anything in life, there are least favorite things we must do. For Larry, it’s the admin work of being a CASA; however, he is quick to say that it has to be done and there is no way around it. Larry goes on to say that it helps to have been sensitized to the deep and urgent need our foster kids have. Larry takes his commitment to Joshua very seriously. He is also committed to the CASA mission and shares it saying, “I don’t know why, but I can’t help but share.” Larry says this is something Joshua would say as he invites others to join the cause.
Because Larry realizes that being a CASA requires teamwork, he stays in touch with his case supervisor, Natalie, and does not hesitate to rely on her expertise and resourcefulness. He also loves attending CASA to CASA events to learn tips and to receive encouragement. He advises other CASAs to reach out to their case supervisors as he has never had a situation in which he felt Natalie was not able to help.
In closing, Larry shares that he enjoys expanding Joshua’s world through their outings. They have a list of outings Joshua would like to try and a list of things Joshua would like to learn. From wanting to learn to speak Spanish, swim, or learn to read an analog clock, Joshua’s appetite for learning is huge. Rotating from In-N-Out, Starbucks, and Barnes and Noble would be enough to keep Joshua happy, but Larry is intentional in scheduling activities to help expand Joshua’s world. And so with each step forward, Larry continues to climb the advocate hill to help Joshua create a brighter future.
Natalie Stack, Larry’s supervisor, shares this about him: " Larry is a fabulous CASA! He started his journey as a CASA a little over a year ago and continues to impress me every time I talk to him. He is dedicated to advocating for his youth's needs and is present at every meeting and hearing supporting him. He knows how to collaborate with others and always acknowledges and celebrates his youth's successes and strengths. His CASA youth is lucky to have Larry by his side. Great job, Larry!"
*Name changed to protect confidentiality