Encouraging foster children to believe in themselves, and follow their dreams is exactly what Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Sue Siudzinski did when Child Advocates matched her with foster child Matt several years ago. Matt was 14 years old when he was removed from his mother’s care due to substance abuse. During his teenage years, Matt lived in several foster homes and ended up in a group home when he was 17. Sue was there to support Matt during each of these transitions.
“I realize the positive impact I had on Matt by just being there for him - providing support and encouragement,” explains Sue. Matt graduated from high school with the dream of being a firefighter. At 18 years old, Matt became an EMT, fulfilling the first step in realizing his dream. That same year he married Yasmin, the love of his life. Later, Matt joined the Air Force and became a firefighter with honors. He recently left the Air Force and now works for an ambulance company and teaches firefighting on the weekends. Matt is now 25 and Sue is still in his life. Matt and Sue were recently reunited at Yasmin’s college graduation in Las Vegas (see picture, left). “My husband and I have and will continue to be a big part of Matt’s life and love and admire the man he has become,” Sue proudly stated. “I learned how resilient and resourceful someone can be even when the odds are stacked against them. Matt is truly my hero and I’m very blessed to have him in my life,” says Sue.
I’ve been a CASA volunteer since 1989, so to say I believe in this program is an understatement. Over the years, my support and volunteerism for Child Advocates has ranged from attending fundraisers (much fun!) to regularly helping at the annual Golf Tournament (a sport I know almost nothing about). Back in the day there was even a Jelly Belly fundraiser!
My Role as a CASA
This past year I have had the privilege of being Kiera’s* CASA. This little girl is a joy and certainly the challenges abound. There are a lot of moving parts in her and her siblings’ lives. On one hand she is fortunately placed with family, on the other, there is a precarious balance between home with family and what the future might mean with her recently prison-released mother. Our relationship grows and we continue to work on her communicating when she’s upset, impulse control and making good choices. All of these challenges are part of most children’s growth, but certainly made more challenging by an uncertain future. My role is to be there for Kiera; to listen to her, advocate for her and speak up for her in court. I’m constantly in contact with her attorney and social worker because these people have a direct effect on Kiera’s life.
We are a team working toward a common goal and my constant focus is to make sure “Team Kiera” is as successful as possible. Most recently, we enjoyed an afternoon of arts and crafts where we did face painting at Child Advocates. A critical part of all of this is my CASA Specialist, George Ochoa. I’m not one to shy away from using any tool at my disposal and certainly his counsel and support has made all the difference. Knowing that I can contact George whenever I need advice is so helpful. *Kiera’s name has been changed to protect her identity.
This month, CASA Specialist Lauren Biel would like to shine the light on Michelle Kristofik for her 11/2 years of advocacy. Michelle advocates for two children - one teen and one young child. Michelle does an exceptional job at providing guidance and support to each child. You can find Michelle playing with barbie's or engaging in imaginary play as a pirate with one child and then spending time on building skills like signing checks and giving back to others with her other child. Michelle is an inspiration in her role as a CASA volunteer. She remains flexible in how she supports each child, while also keeping clear boundaries and expectations. Michelle always has a positive outlook, is strength based, and is always looking for ways to support her youth.
CASA Specialist George Ochoa would like to shine the light on Mireya Llaurado for her outstanding advocacy. Mireya has been a CASA volunteer for 2 1/2 years. As a superstar CASA, she has helped her youth explore her feelings by displaying compassion, dedication and thoughtfulness every time they meet. Mireya has always been a positive mentor for her advocate child and guided her through good times and bad.
Child Advocates of Silicon Valley is truly grateful for Mireya's volunteer work and commitment to our children. She is a caring adult who has positively impacted her child's experiences. These kinds of powerful connections give our youth a sense of well-being that can last a lifetime. Thank you, Mireya for all your hard work and being a star CASA!
CASA Mentor Manager, Catherine, and staff would like to shine the light on Jan Maisen for her advocacy and support to a teenage boy and his older sister. Jan has shown incredible dedication to these children and the agency. She even recently convinced her husband to join the CASA program! As a superstar advocate, Jan is on top of everything regarding her two CASA children. No task is too big or small for Jan. She sees to it that every unresolved task is tended to, regardless of what hoops she must jump. Jan attends every Child Advocates event and remains very active in the children's lives. It's clear by their interactions with her, that they truly value and care for her and that she is making a huge, lasting impact in their lives.