When Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Ryan Hoey first met his CASA youth, “J”, they experienced some of the usual challenges getting to know one another. They weren’t able to meet face-to-face due to COVID restrictions and Ryan felt he needed to get creative in thinking of a way to better connect with 11 year old “J”. Ryan eventually landed on "J"’s enthusiasm for all things sports; basketball, football, baseball. He loved it all.
After going through an online directory for USC, Ryan started peppering everyone he could find with introductory emails. He reached out to a number of Athletic Directors as well as people on the medical and social work side of the university. He was hoping to find a coach, a player or anyone on one of the many sports teams with a life story that would be more relatable to young "J" and the challenges he was facing. Ryan was hoping to find someone who could help "J" connect the important role education and teamwork plays in success in sports.
Within a short period of time, Ryan was blown away by the overwhelming response he received to his emails. He soon had meetings or calls set up with Athletic Directors in Track & Field, Football and even a Sports Medicine doctor.
After learning more about Ryan’s desire to make a connection with his CASA youth through USC athletics, McCall Hall, Director of Community Outreach at USC, reached out to Ryan and began to make connections with student athletes who would be willing to talk with "J" and share their own personal journeys.
Soon after, some of the best student athletes and coaches from USC football organized to participate in a zoom call with "J". Ryan joined "J" at his school for the call. The USC student athletes shared their journeys growing up in tough neighborhoods. They spoke to “J” about the importance of staying out of trouble and trying hard to do your best. The athletes talked about the importance of education, belief in yourself, attendance, and teamwork. Ryan said of that day, “I immediately saw a brightened spirit in “J” - I had never seen him smile so big or be so happy.” He added, “I felt, for the first time, a mutual bond developing between us.”
The story doesn’t end there. After learning about the work CASA OC does, USC wanted to develop a long term partnership with CASA to give back to the Orange County community. McCall Hall of USC met with the leaders of CASA to brainstorm other ways the university could help CASA youth through special experiences and connection with USC student athletes who could share their stories and inspire CASA youth to persevere through adversity.
Since then, USC has deepened their connection with CASA through their annual “Day of SCervice”. That event, which featured USC alumni and former NY Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, was designed to help recruit CASA volunteers and donors. Mark Sanchez is a longtime supporter of CASA.
Recently "J" was the lucky recipient of a “Trojan Wish” which included special VIP treatment at a USC football game, time on the field including photos with players and a swag bag filled with USC merchandise.
When asked how “J” enjoyed his day as a special Trojan guest, social worker Manny Rodriguez said, “He was totally stoked. The experience changed his point of view about grades and school. He now says he’s going to play for USC when he gets to college.”
CASA is so grateful for supportive Community Partners like USC, for creative CASA volunteers like Ryan and, most of all, for kiddos like “J” who allow us to share in their journeys.