Please take a moment to read thoughts from Jeff Sprinkle, the 2019 CASA Volunteer of the Year in Georgia as well as the 2019 National CASA Volunteer of the Year. Jeff volunteers with Northeast Georgia CASA, headquartered in Toccoa. He has been a CASA volunteer for 10 years. Additionally, he served as a board member of Northeast Georgia CASA for three of those years.
How did you learn about CASA? What made you want to become involved?
I knew about the CASA program because of work I did while serving on a Citizens Review Panel for Judge Jackson in Forsyth County. I did not get involved with the CASA organization until I moved to Rabun County ten years ago. Having known a little about the CASA program, and the positive impact their volunteers had on serving children in foster care, it was an easy ‘yes’ when Melissa Barrett, the CASA program director, called and asked me if I was interested in serving as a CASA volunteer for the Mountain Judicial Circuit in Clayton.
I have worked for several organizations over the past twenty years that mentor and advocate for children, and the impact a CASA has on influencing children and their families in a positive way has been the most life changing experience for me.
What qualities do you think are important to have as a CASA volunteer?
Respect, dignity, and grace
are the first three words I write on the inside of my file folder for new cases. As a CASA volunteer, I have learned the following:
- We should respect each and every child by acknowledging their personal story.
- Dignity reminds us that we must represent a child in a way that honors them.
- Grace gets us through those tough times when the child needs the assurance that someone is on their side.
What has been your greatest challenge as a CASA volunteer?
Being patient with the child welfare process has been – and continues to be – my biggest challenge. While new laws and DFCS procedures have been put in place to assure that a child spends minimal time in foster care, the amount of time it takes to reunify a family or arrange an adoptive, forever home for a child takes entirely too long.
Of late, judges, SAAGs (Special Assistant Attorney General), DFCS (Department of Family and Children Services), and other interested parties have been working together to address this issue. New procedures and checks and balances are being implemented to assure that our children spend as little time as possible in foster care.
What has been your greatest success as a CASA volunteer?
I know that I cannot take away the hurt and pain a child feels while they are in foster care, but I can help create opportunities where they are included, cared for, and loved on. As a CASA, I measure success based on how well I am able to interact and engage with other stakeholders to make sure all the needs of the child for whom I advocate are being met.
Briefly tell about a CASA case you've had.
On my very first case as a CASA, I had the privilege of being introduced to a very special family. Unfortunately, at the time, the family was in the middle of the worst possible family nightmare. Basically, anything that could go wrong … did. The wheels totally ran off the wagon for the family when DFCS decided to take their children into custody. While traumatic for everyone, this one single event put the family on a path of healing and recovery. In partnership with DFCS, Mom and Dad were quickly introduced to service providers that were able to provide resources that helped them to start rebuilding their lives.
Fast forward ten years and you will find a family where Mom and Dad now own their own home. They both work two jobs. The younger children are doing well in school and the older children are preparing to move on to higher education and gainful employment opportunities.
For personal motivation, I have purposely stayed in touch with this family and have been overwhelmed with their acts of kindness and their willingness to give back. Recently, Dad’s adult brother, who has special needs and requires 24/7 care, needed a new home. Mom and Dad not only bought a home for the brother, but all of them, children included, help manage the much-needed 24/7 care for him.
Is there anything else you'd like to say?
When I became a CASA, I thought I would be doing all the giving and serving. But like so many things we do to help others, I have become a better person and feel truly blessed and humbled by my experiences as a CASA.