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An Advocate's Journey 

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I've long believed volunteering is the best way to get to know a community when you move to a new place. In 2014, I moved to Humboldt and spent my first few years picking up casual volunteer shifts when I could, gravitating first toward community cleanups and zero waste sorting at festivals, then toward helping to feed or raise money for people without adequate food. It felt good and, as with all good things, I wanted more.

Around the end of 2019, life felt stable and I was ready to think about a bigger commitment to the people in my community. On my morning drive to work, a radio ad from CASA of Humboldt would play, talking about courts, advocacy and some other concepts I didn't understand yet. But I did understand it was in service of foster kids, which caught my ear. After hearing the ad for I don't know how many months, I couldn't stop thinking about it and finally decided to reach out and learn more.

I learned that Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) is a national group with individual chapters across nearly every state in the nation (I'm looking at you, North Dakota, the last holdout). CASA recruits and trains volunteers, regular folks like you and me, to provide mentorship and court advocacy for kids who have found themselves in the foster system. As a writer, I was pumped about the idea of writing court reports every six months but more than slightly terrified at the mentorship aspect. The self-doubt was real. I don't have children and I grew up an only child — would kids even like me? Would I even know what to say to them? What if I totally sucked at this?

Though, what if I didn't suck at it? Maybe I could do some good.

I soon discovered the CASA staff who would train me and supervise me through my first case provided all the support an unsure volunteer like me could ever need. That they did it under the craziest of circumstances made it an even more exceptional experience. Right as I started my training, the whole world shut down due to the global COVID pandemic. I certainly had thoughts of backing out with the fear of the unknown looming ahead but I'm so glad I didn't. Kids, even in the best of circumstances, were about to need the support of all the adults in the room. If I didn't want to suck at this, I couldn't back down at my first opportunity to step up when it really mattered.

A few months after training ended, I received my first assignments, a pair of brothers. If I thought I knew nothing about kids, I knew even less about boys. I second-guessed myself clear up until I met them, but then quickly knew I was exactly where I needed to be. Not having my own kids wasn't a hindrance at all; I didn't need to be their mom, I could just be their friend. They had their foster parents (amazing ones), their social worker, their teachers, their lawyer and therapist supporting them through the system. I could be something else entirely, the final piece of a vital team committed to supporting them through this insane and unfamiliar experience.

We played video games, hunted mushrooms and caught crabs off the pier. We saw kids' movies and called for whales from the shores of Centerville Beach (these kids speak fluent whale, by the way). I came to love the little prints their sticky hands would leave in my backseat, evidence of the delicious food we'd find on our adventures. On their bad days, they'd throw some defiance and difficulty my way, testing the limits of my commitment, as kids who are let down by adults are so often inclined to do. Their instinct tells them, "If I can push them away first, it won't hurt as bad when they leave." It was my mission to let them know I wasn't going anywhere and to be a safe space as they worked through their big emotions.

I was their CASA for a little under two years. I was proud of the commitment I'd made to them. Somewhere along the way, though, I realized exactly what these kids were doing for me. During COVID, the world often felt like it was falling apart but the kids helped me find purpose. They were a gift during the strangest of times, a reprieve from my lesser worries and a reminder to stay young at heart.

But it went beyond that. I was a foster care kid, too, spending two years in the system before going back to my parents. These kids took me on a cathartic journey to heal the broken pieces of myself I'd buried away long ago. The trauma of my experience and the lack of constancy fundamentally changed who I was as a person. All I wanted was for these kids to have more healthy constants in their lives than so many of us had while in the system. Working with CASA allowed me to aid in the pursuit of ending the generational trauma these kids have endured.

Mentorship and court advocacy are the core of what CASA does. But the peripheral benefits are many and invaluable. It provides a safe space the kids can call their own, with toys, video games, books and quiet; the CASA house became an early refuge during my time with the boys. The organization partners with local events to provide free access so the kids can experience community. It facilitates mental health and educational advocacy. There's even a CASA store for Christmas so kids can experience the joy of picking out gifts for loved ones. CASA staff and volunteers are purveyors of dignity for these children. They are community healing in action.

There are more than 280 children in the Humboldt County foster system and it's CASA's mission to pair every kid in need with a volunteer advocate. If you have the time, consider stepping up to support the most vulnerable members of our community. One of the key indicators of resilience in foster youth is having just one adult step up and provide a positive and stable influence in their life. I swear, if I can do it, you can do it, too.

For more information, visit

Jessica Silva (she/her) is a civil servant and a freelance writer. She's a seeker of river and forest adventures, a mushroom hunter and a lover of literature. She loves getting creative in the kitchen and teaching kids cooking classes to Humboldt's next generation of foodies.

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