Stories

After Retirement, Becoming a Child Advocate

By Mike Mathews | Dec 8 2014

I recently retired from a finance position in telecommunications and began looking for a volunteer opportunity that was both impactful and challenging. One of SA2020’s causes is family well-being. I chose CASA (Child Advocates of San Antonio) because in SA2020’s words, “How we treat the most vulnerable among us is one indicator of our community’s commitment to creating a healthy and thriving city.

The purpose of CASA is to look out for the best interests of foster children.  On average, over 150 children a month are removed from their homes in Bexar County due to abuse and neglect.  Our judges want to assign a CASA advocate to all cases by 2020 but currently we’re only able to help about 40% of the children in care.

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Photo credit: Will Langmore Photography

I signed on to my first case in April. This medical neglect case included a unique dimension because the mother and children are international refugees.  Communicating has been difficult because there are few translators of their native language.  Because of the language and cultural barriers, it has taken a while for the kids to warm up to me.  But with each visit we’ve become closer (lunch, ice-cream trips, bookstore and library visits have all helped!).  In our first court hearing the judge agreed with me that the children and the mother require significantly more training and education to have any chance at a successful reunification and reasonable future.  Since then I have been advocating for additional services for the kids such as tutoring and mentoring.

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Photo credit: Joe Vega

What attracted me to CASA was that the volunteers are the front line, supported by a staff of experienced and compassionate individuals whose sole goal is the well-being of these children.  As a CASA volunteer, first I become a friend and mentor to kids who often lose trust and hope.  Second, the advocates research the case and talk to various stakeholders including teachers, doctors and therapists to ensure nothing falls through the cracks.  We may also uncover critical information that could shift the case in a new direction.  Finally, we report these facts, concerns, and our independent recommendations to the judge regarding final placement of the children and needed services.  Judges agree with CASA volunteers’ recommendation about 96% of the time; meaning our contributions make a difference.

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Photo credit: Josh Huskin

CASA prepares you through extensive training, experienced supervisors and a vast network of fellow advocates.  Initially, I didn’t know if I could contribute much given my lack of experience in the social fields.  However I found that some of my corporate skills and tendencies translated quite well, including project management, oral and written communication, and persistence combined with a general investigative curiosity.  This has been exactly the type of challenge I was seeking and I have met some incredible people within the community.  Most importantly though, I know that I am making a positive contribution to these children’s future, and thus our city.

Join me in making a difference by visiting www.casa-satx.org. CASA is especially in need of male and minority advocates.

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Photo credit: Joshn Huskin

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Mike Mathews

Mike and his wife Sonja moved to San Antonio in 2010. He retired last year after working for 30 years in the telecommunications industry. He currently volunteers with Child Advocates of San Antonio (CASA) and also enjoys traveling, hiking and photography.

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