Please take a moment to read these inspiring thoughts from Vicki Hellums, the 2020 CASA Volunteer of the Year in Georgia. She volunteers with Piedmont CASA, serving Banks, Barrow, and Jackson counties in the northeastern part of the state. Vicki has been a CASA volunteer for 18 years and has advocated for over 100 children!
How did you learn about CASA? What made you want to become involved?
I first learned about the CASA program through an ad placed in our local newspaper. The Piedmont Judicial Circuit was announcing the start of the CASA program and inviting anyone interested to attend an upcoming training class. I was intrigued with the fact that the CASA program began in the state of Washington, which is where I had previously lived for 10 years and was a foster parent for part of that time. When my spouse and I moved from Washington in 1983, we had three small children of our own and had every intention to return to foster parenting again. As it always seems to happen, we became involved with our children’s activities and before we knew it, our time was filled with soccer, baseball, football, Girl Scouts, paper routes, and multiple school activities and teenagers! Along with working full-time jobs, we volunteered in a faith-based drug addiction program, taught Sunday School classes, and chaperoned at teen outings.
Time flew by and before we knew it, our children were grown and gone; we were now empty nesters. Still having a heart to work with children, I began wondering where I could make a difference at my age, then I read the CASA ad and knew I had to check it out! That was it!!
What qualities do you think are important to have as a CASA volunteer?
To be an effective CASA volunteer for a child, it takes qualities such as being a great listener, nonjudgmental, honest, always available, being compassionate yet determined with an unstoppable drive to change a child’s life from a horrible situation to one of hope, love, and happiness and a solid chance to succeed in life. A great CASA volunteer will never take a statement made by others as fact or truth without researching every small detail themselves (think Matlock, Dick Tracy, or Perry Mason!). Finding the truth arms the CASA volunteer with the tools needed to utilize available resources that can help break down walls of anger, bring arguments to a point of peaceful communication, and provide the judge with a solid, truth-filled court report which will allow him or her to make a fully informed decision in protecting the child and hopefully either reuniting with the biological family or protecting the child through a forever adoptive family.
What has been your greatest challenge as a CASA volunteer?
My greatest challenge has always been writing my court reports. My goal with every report is to present every detail clearly enough that the judge is able to see what I saw, feel what I felt, and hear what I’ve heard as if he or she had been beside me for every meeting, conversation I’ve had, or research I’ve done.
Details are so important, yet can be very time consuming and lengthy. I struggle with leaving anything out and with that challenge I am eternally grateful for my CASA supervisors that can totally understand what I’m saying and condense my words without losing one single point. Thank you, Jude Red Bear and Bree McPherson with Piedmont CASA!
I used to be fearful of the thought of being put on the stand to testify, but have since learned that I can present evidence and expand on topics in question much easier and thoroughly when I’m on the stand as opposed to writing a report that is inevitably turned in prior to the forever infamous one last major turn of events that always seems to take place right after my report has been submitted.
What have been some of your greatest successes as a CASA volunteer?
The accomplishments over the last 18 years with CASA have rewarded me with many feelings of success, like the genuine love felt from children through their hugs, smiles, giggles, and heartfelt trust to expose their tears and fears. I am super grateful to be the one that digs through all the mud and mess to uncover the truth and protect each precious child. I love these children as if they were my own.
Success is when a young girl is being traded by her mom to men for drugs and the only request is to “please find my dad; I know he’ll love me” but I’ve been told the dad is unable to be found, yet I find him in less than two hours of research! The young girl was right; her dad had been searching for her, loved her, and took her home with his family that was waiting with open arms.
Success is supporting a mom that felt the only hope her young child had was to be adopted by a drug free family, even though it was ripping her heart apart to let go. Then keeping up with that same mom for years and never giving up on her with the result of her now being almost two years drug free and building a beautiful life, AND the adoptive family of her child being just as supportive in allowing her to be a part of her child’s life.
Success is regularly getting phone calls from children that you have fought for in the past that are now adults asking for advice or just wanting to talk.
Success is working tirelessly to reunite a family with many children where the parents were accused of drug use, yet there was no evidence to support the claim for over a year through testing. Then, a surprise pregnancy and the newborn tests positive for drugs, but the mom does not. Relentless research and contact with professionals, such as a pharmacist and doctors, revealed proven medical studies that a child can test positive when a mom receives an epidural during delivery.
Would you like to share a closing thought?
The CASA volunteer road is paved with determination, hard work, excitement, tears, fears, sleepless nights, celebrations, and love. What an honor to be a part of such an awesome program that is changing the lives of so many precious children, one child at a time!