This month we shine our spotlight on Advocate Stacy Montanez!
A trip to Fashion Island in the fall of 2019, turned out to be more than a shopping day for Stacy when she stopped by an information booth and learned about the CASA OC program and felt a tug in her heart. Soon after, she began the process of becoming a Court Appointed Special Advocate. Stacy has always been cognizant that children are our future. This awareness has given her a special interest in giving back. So after learning about CASA’s mission, Stacy took a step forward to give back, help out, and contribute to make the life of youth in foster care a little better and brighter.
And that is exactly what Stacy is doing for *Amber, her 16 year old CASA youth. Stacy had only had one in-person visit before the pandemic onset. She admits that it has not been easy to make and maintain a connection since Amber is much more open in person than through texts and phone calls, but the timing to meet the challenges of the virtual setting was impeccable because of her background and skills in virtual teams management. She used those skills to build trust and consistency with Amber. However, there was a time when Stacy felt she was losing connection with Amber. She continued to press on. Her approach to build trust and connection has been her consistency with virtual visits and asking the type of questions that give Amber an opportunity to share what’s on her mind. Amber knows that Stacy is a good listener and advocate for her. Stacy is continually aware of the importance of knowing that we cannot fix everything for our CASA youth and that at times one may feel overwhelmed wanting to fix certain situations. So Stacy focuses on helping Amber think through difficult situations and problem-solve strategies thus empowering her to self-advocate whenever possible. Stacy shares that she makes sure to validate Amber’s perspective while at the same time she imparts a long view of life and makes herself available to be Amber’s shoulder to lean on during those raw moments in life. From the beginning of their relationship, Stacy made herself available to Amber and was able to create reasonable expectations and boundaries which are part of their healthy relationship.
A poignant moment in Stacy’s experience as a CASA was when Amber wrote a paper for school in which Amber shared her experiences in foster care and how if it had not been for her CASA, she would not be alive today. Stacy recalls this as an incredible moment of truly being the only reliable person in Amber’s life during that very dark time. Stacy’s consistency, availability, reliability, advocacy, and mentoring has been a lifeline for Amber.
One of Stacy’s victories in advocating for Amber is that she has empowered her when her emotional needs are not being met and when it’s okay to not be okay. Stacy also gently emphasizes the value of honesty being a two-way street and how being honest is a sign of maturity. Stacy has also seen advocacy victories in the area of education, but by far the greatest success is the way she has been able to bond with Amber considering the context of the pandemic. During the past year, there were moments when Stacy says she wanted to give up due to the lack of face-to-face contact, but she pressed on and now she enjoys receiving messages from Amber on special days such as Mother’s Day, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day.
Stacy also shares that her biggest challenge in being a CASA is creating healthy boundaries because she knows she’s the type of person who likes to give 110% and is a fixer, especially when it comes to caring for others. But she knows where her CASA responsibilities end and is able to draw boundary lines.
Stacy would like other CASAs to know that anything you can give back, even if it’s one small thing to help someone else, you have made a difference. She advises to take it one step at a time and not to expect a deep relationship immediately. She also wisely advises not to do it for self benefit, but to do it for others. This is especially helpful during the tough moments when one does not feel rewarded or appreciated.
What Stacy likes the most about being a CASA is helping to make a difference in someone’s life and advocating when that someone can’t advocate for herself. When asked about her least favorite aspect of being a CASA, Stacy candidly shared that she does not enjoy having to enter notes in Optima! She works a lot of hours and deals with emails and meetings all day so the last thing she wants to do is to get into Optima. But she understands its importance and pushes herself to do it. As we spoke, she remembered that she is getting ready to write her second court report so she is aware that being able to look back at her notes in Optima will be helpful.
Being a CASA, Stacy shared, has impacted her life in more than one way, but more so in her growing awareness of the issues foster children face. She feels that she’s become more empathetic and understanding that not everyone has the same experiences.
As we closed our conversation, Stacy shared a few final words of advice for her fellow CASAs. She advised to go in without high expectations for what the first meeting would look like. Be patient and don’t be hard on yourself. Ask thoughtful open ended questions and give the children time to express themselves. Listen. Don’t be judgmental. We don’t have all the answers, but we can help guide them through the process of finding answers.
Stacy was able to succeed in building a positive relationship with Amber, despite the pandemic and its restrictions. Now that the world is opening up, she is excited and looks forward to what the future holds being able to meet in person, have outings, and hopefully attend CASA events in the near future.
*Name changed to protect confidentiality.
Stacy’s supervisor, Natalie Stack, shares: “Stacy is a phenomenal CASA! This past year has been very difficult for her youth, and Stacy is always there for her when she needs to talk. Stacy meets her where she is at and is able to fiercely advocate for her when needed. She is her youth's one constant when no one is in her corner. Stacy is compassionate, empathetic, patient, and understanding. I am lucky to have her on my caseload and I very much so enjoy working with her. Wonderful job, Stacy!”