This month we shine our spotlight on Advocate Mary King!
During the current global pandemic, many things are uncertain, but Mary King’s steadfast commitment to *Zoe, her 14-year old CASA youth, remains unshakable. Yet, Mary does not think this is considered as going above and beyond. Instead, Mary is humbled to be chosen for this month’s Volunteer Spotlight for doing what she said she would do. As we chatted with Mary, it was easy to see that she has a fun, compassionate, and nurturing soul. Her love for Zoe is unconditional and no matter what turns her case takes, Mary finds ways to show up for Zoe.
When asked what attracted her to the CASA program, Mary explained that it all began about 20 years ago when the “CASA seed” was planted in her mind. She first heard about CASA during her involvement with the Junior League. Then over the years, the CASA seed was watered when she met a friend who happened to be a CASA and would encourage her to become one. Finally, when her youngest daughter went away to college, Mary felt empowered and confidently ready to take on the CASA role. Mary humorously shares that her husband also was ready to take on a new role, but did not want to copy her. Instead, he decided to become a Big Brother. Now Mary jokingly says that she and her husband have their replacement kids. She has her CASA girl while her husband has his “Little” [brother].
Mary told us that her hero and inspiration is Father Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries. She went on to say that he has modeled what it looks like to walk beside young people who are going through hard times: not pulling or pushing them, but just being there for them. Father Boyle’s approach and non-judgmental attitude is reflected in the way Mary mentors and advocates for Zoe.
Mary admits that when she first became a CASA, she was hoping to be matched with a boy. However, she is now glad that she was given Zoe. The CASA picnic 2018 was their first of many outings. Conversation flows easily, since Zoe is a talker while Mary is the attentive and intentional listener. On outings, they would try new things. As expected, some things stuck more than others. Soon after their first outing, Zoe moved outside Orange County. Mary did not miss a beat and consistently made the long drive every other week to see her. La Mexicana Restaurant was their starting point, then they would go off to explore oftentimes driving long distances to find things to do. Since Zoe’s love language is gift-giving, she loved receiving CASA gift cards which she generously used to shop for her family. When Zoe returned to Orange County, they took advantage of the CASA kitchen to make delicious recipes. To keep a record of their times together, Mary made a little book of memories to give to Zoe on their first CASA anniversary. Due to the frequent placement moves that are part of life in foster care, Zoe lost her memory book along the way. Knowing that this would likely happen, Mary has it digitally saved and will be able to replace it. Mary and Zoe’s relationship is close and they pick up on each other’s mannerisms. Mary smiles when she recalls a time when Zoe’s friends said to Zoe, “Why are you talking like a white girl?” Zoe said her CASA was rubbing off on her!
It’s an honor for Mary to be able to speak up for Zoe in Court. Recently, Mary felt she was the one on trial the day she addressed the court to advocate for Zoe not to be sent to juvenile hall. Mary candidly shared with us that she had certain expectations at the beginning of the case, but now realizes that there is much work to do together to reach certain goals. Nevertheless, Mary’s greatest success in the case is that Zoe knows she can count her. Zoe sometimes wonders if Mary will lose track of her, but Mary proves time and time again to Zoe that she can rely on Mary to be there. Zoe feels secure in their relationship.
As far as challenges, Mary recognizes that it’s difficult dealing with the “two steps forward, one step back” progress. It is also difficult dealing with the not-knowing and trying to make sense of the foster care system. The first six months on the case were very difficult causing Mary to, at times, feel tempted to take matters into her own hands to fix the situation. Thankfully, Mary said that she feels she won the lottery with the two case supervisors she has had - Lindsey Covino and Kari Becker, who have been a wonderful support and sounding board.
When asked what is the most important thing to remember, Mary is quick to say, “Walk beside others; love unconditionally; be non judgmental.” Mary loves the CASA program so much, she said she would have five CASA kiddos, if she could! Her favorite part of being a CASA is having outings with Zoe and just talking about her day. This fills her heart. Mary is glad that the judge really listens to CASAs which makes the experience both scary and rewarding at the same time. Mary carefully listens and interprets Zoe’s requests to the court giving the team a broad picture of who Zoe is and giving context to her life. Mary also likes to share “power” with Zoe to help her feel that her voice is being heard.
We asked Mary if there was a least favorite thing about her CASA role. She said that putting in contact logs in Optima was probably the least favorite thing. However, Mary admits that if doing paperwork is the worst thing about being a CASA, then it’s not so bad.
CASA has helped Mary realize how sheltered her life had been and felt she had been living in a “bubble.” She says it has been sobering to see and to recognize the level of poverty and its effects in Orange County.
Because Mary is a humble person, she has no direct advice to give to other CASAs. She says that she draws inspiration from reading other Volunteer Spotlights and CASA stories. The consistent advice she takes away from others is to be tenacious and to keep asking good questions about the best interest of the children. In closing, Mary told us that since she advocated for her own children, she now feels privileged to be able to do it for someone else.
Mary’s Case Supervisor, Kari Becker, shares this about her, “Mary King has been a CASA for almost 2 years. When I met Mary, I could instantly see how genuine and caring she was. Her role as a CASA is a natural fit. And although her case has taken her through many ups and downs, Mary has handled each situation with as much grace as perseverance. Any and all court hearings, case-related meetings, placement changes, etc. - you name it - Mary is there, present and ready to advocate for her youth. I have witnessed just how much Mary's youth admires her and is grateful for her. That alone is a testament to who Mary is. Thank you Mary, for being so devoted to CASA!”
*Name changed to protect confidentiality