This month we shine our spotlight on Advocate Minzi Jones!
From foster parent to advocate, Minzi was a foster parent for about three years before becoming a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA). She remembers the children that came to her home seemed to be incredibly alone. They would show up to her home with nothing but a trash bag with all their belongings. As a foster parent, her experience with the foster care system was frustrating, but she wanted to continue to help those children in need. She wanted to do something to make the situation for foster children in care better. Minzi shared that her mother was addicted to the Dr. Phil Show and that is where she learned about CASA. She attended an information session and felt that this was the right fit for her. She could continue to work with foster children and help make a difference in their lives as a CASA.
Since becoming a CASA, Minzi has been assigned to five different cases. She is still in touch with the foster children whom she worked with except for one. Her first case was with a 17-year-old boy. Unfortunately, he struggled in foster care and, like many others, had difficulties following the rules. Minzi also worked with a young lady who had been in foster care since the young age of six. Minzi felt that their relationship was the closest. Minzi worked with her until she turned 21. She is now 27.
Minzi remembers her youth telling her they always felt that she listened to them and that she was there for them. She wouldn’t get mad at them and would always support them no matter what. She continues to be this way today. Minzi gave them what they needed. She stated no matter what they did, she would always be there for them. She didn’t believe in lecturing. She just wanted to provide support, care and guidance.
When asked what she felt was one of her greatest successes, she talked about the time she was able to advocate for her youth’s education. She advocated for him to be assessed for an Individualized Education Program (IEP). He was a 13-year-old boy from a different country who had a 2nd grade education though he was in the 7th grade. Clearly he was not getting his educational needs met. She attended meetings and helped him understand what was being said, because Minzi knew that the way things are discussed during such meetings can be confusing to youth and also make them feel inadequate. At one point, her youth asked her if there was something wrong with him. She was able to help him see that there was nothing wrong with him, he just needed those around him to understand him and what he needed. It was determined that her youth did qualify for an IEP and was then able to get him the help he needed. He was placed in a more appropriate school environment and he started getting all As! Even though he had been so far behind, he graduated because of the support and advocacy Minzi was able to provide as his CASA.
Her greatest challenge has been looking back and wondering “what did I do for them?” She knows that she can’t undo what happened to them, so she focused on always being there for them so they would always have someone in their corner.
Being a CASA, she has learned an important thing: it was never about her. She stated that when you go through training, you get so invested in it and can forget this. She realized this when she was helping one of her youth with a project. Both were really excited about it and knew he would get a good grade on the project. After working on the project, she dropped him off and he ran away from placement that day. She was frustrated that after all she did for him, he just left. After thinking through her frustrations, she remembered that it is not about her. She realized what she did was to help him and not her. She learned that whatever she does for her youth, to do it without expectations.
What Minzi likes most about being a CASA is getting to work with teenagers. She likes working with teenagers, even the “spicy” ones. They are social and genuine. She can’t imagine not being a CASA. Also, she has loved working with her supervisors. What she likes least about being a CASA is seeing the heartbreak that these youth experience from being separated from their families.
In addition to being a traditional CASA, Minzi interned with the CASA Family Connections program. She would like people to know about the Family Connections program. She feels this may be a good alternative for people who are not wanting to be a traditional CASA, but want to help improve the lives of foster children.
“CASA has completely changed my life” said Minzi. It made her want to go back to school to become a social worker. She earned her Bachelors in Social Work in May 2021 and is now working on her Masters in Social Work. She wants to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Her new internship will be focusing on restorative juvenile justice for teenagers.
When asked what advise she has for other CASAs, she states that they should utilize their case supervisors as much as possible and remember that social services and the system moves slowly. She feels that if you remember this, it is easier to take on your role. She also wants to remind CASAs to remember to be present with their youth and not to lecture them but listen. She states that they feel like no one listens and are always being told what to do. Lastly, she wants CASAs to remember it is not about you.
Minzi’s Case Supervisor, Karyn Quick shares: I have had the pleasure of working with Minzi for the past few years as her case supervisor. Minzi has worked with several foster youth over the past 10 years and always has a great connection with her youth. Minzi is a caring, funny and a hands-on CASA. What's great is that her former youth are still in contact with her.
Minzi’s Family Connections Supervisor, Sylvia Novakoff shares: Minzi is a Family Connections advocate star. She is passionate about our mission to connect youth with family and other important people and build a supportive, caring network. She’s super creative and innovative in making connections happen. Minzi is a great “family partner” -- coaching family members about dependency, offering empathy and compassion, and “keeping it real” to manage expectations on both sides. Minzi recently wrapped up a six-month Bachelor's in Social Work internship with Family Connections and she earned a spot in USC’s prestigious MSW program. The CASA in-service she created about incarcerated parents earlier this year was one of CASA’s most highly attended. Minzi is truly a gift as a traditional CASA and a Family Connections advocate.