The Alameda County CASA is in need of 100 new volunteers
Brionna White seems like a typical college student. In her second year at San Francisco State University, she excels in her classes on Chinese and Economics, while keeping one eye focused on a future career in finance and assets management.
But it wasn’t so long ago that White’s opportunity for success wasn’t so certain. When she entered the foster care system at the age of six, statistics were stacked against her.
According to the Alameda County Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA, 75 percent of the counties foster youth are working below grade level, 46 percent never graduate high school, 25 percent are incarcerated within two years of emancipation and only one percent earn a college degree.
Formed in 1987, the Alameda County CASA has been working to keep foster youth from becoming statistics by pairing volunteer advocates one-on-one with disadvantaged children and teens.
“We work with the neediest juvenile dependants,” John Anyosa, CASA volunteer recruiter, said, “those who have been abused, neglected or abandoned by their families.”
While advocates offer support and guidance to foster youth, according to Ayosa, their biggest role is making recommendations to the court.
“It’s more than mentorship, you’re advocating,” he said. “You’re speaking to the social worker, you’re talking to the child’s attorney on behalf of the youth and on behalf of their interests.”
“My CASA put on the table that college was a priority for me,” White said. “She’s the reason I know what I want to do right now. She helped out with scholarships and exposed me to other opportunities that might interest me. She directed me towards a path that I know I can succeed at.”
But White is one of the lucky ones. Currently, the Alameda CASA serves nearly 200 foster youth, but they are in immediate need of 100 more volunteers to serve their growing waitlist of needy children.
Micah Rasun works as an advertizing consultant during the day, but took up the call for foster youth advocacy nearly a year ago. “It’s always been my passion to be there for children,” she said. “CASA was a collaborative effort, and that was something I hadn’t done before. Naturally, the professionals don’t have the time available to meet a child’s social, emotional and psychological needs, but they are there for structure. Us working together is a great support for the child to get what they need.”According to Anyosa, all it takes for a person over 21 years of age to be the CASA for a foster youth in need is the willingness to volunteer 10 hours a week for one year and agree to a background check. The organization provides volunteers with all the additional training they need through a 36-hour program over five weeks.
“CASA is concerned with the real life of the child,” Rasun said. “CASA adds the emotional element to it. It is the hands on day-to-day experience versus the social worker, attorney and clinical people assigned to guide them though the system.”
The Alameda CASA offers orientation for new volunteers once a month. The next opportunity to hear more about the program and testimony from its volunteers is March 20 at the Alameda CASA offices in San Leandro.
Volunteering, however, isn’t the only way to help. The Alameda CASA is also in need of cash and in-kind donations, and will be holding their annual fundraiser on April 25 at Scott’s in Jack London Square.
“The most rewarding part is the satisfaction of knowing at least one child, as long as I’m assigned to him, one child, wont spend his life in 20 different foster homes,” Rasun said. “To know he’s now connected with his emotions and cared for, and he knows that he is important.”
For White’s part, she too knows how important her CASA has been to her own growth. “My CASA is the reason why I’m succeeding now, and why I graduated from high school.”