This month we spotlight Marilyn Ashley. Marilyn and her husband have two dogs, who we are told are quite spoiled! She attends Blue Grass Church in McCutchanville. Marilyn will have her 9 year anniversary as a CASA this September. She is a very caring person with a huge heart and we are so grateful she is a CASA Volunteer!
What inspired you to become a CASA?
By nature, I am a tenderhearted person and I have always felt a particular draw to do something that was bigger than me; to use an old cliché ‘to make a difference’. Like most people, my days were routine, full from sun up to sun down with work and personal commitments. On one very normal day I heard the news that 3 children had died locally in situations that were avoidable. On that day, sadness washed over me and I knew in my heart that I had to find a way to try to make sure that other children were not lost to the same fate. Those 3 children may have died, but they did not die in vain. I am a testimony to their short lives. The silence of their cries spoke to me and I have never been the same. I do this because of them.
What has surprised you most about being a CASA?
There are a couple of things that have surprised me about becoming a CASA.
The first is the strength and power of a single voice that cares. I learned that I can be braver and stronger than I ever would have thought possible. I had never been in a courtroom and dealt with attorneys and judges. I had never experienced the challenges that these children have been forced to live through. I never realized that I could do something that could make such a positive impact on someone else.
The second is the change that you can see in a child’s eyes when their lives have been set on the right path; when the element that has caused them so much pain has been removed or corrected. It is a transformation that occurs over time as they begin to realize that they matter, that they are loved, that they did nothing wrong and that it will all be ok; when hope replaces despair.
What is the best/worst thing that has happened to you as a CASA?
To be a CASA is to give your time and have faith that your efforts have made a difference, knowing that you may expend great energies for a family and never really know how it all turned out. Both the best and worst experiences that I have had as a CASA have been book-ended with the knowledge of how the story ended.
My best experience occurred 4 years after a case had closed and a group of siblings had been adopted. The oldest of the children asked the adoptive mother if I could come for a visit to see how well they were doing and swim in their new pool with them. Of course, I immediately took a day off and was on the road for the 3 hour trip (each way) to visit them the very next morning. This was an incredibly gratifying experience and still fills my heart with joy. I will never forget that day and that feeling.
My worst experience as a CASA caused me extreme immediate pain and anger which was eventually replaced with great joy. There was a mentally challenged boy of about 18 months old who had been in foster care with the same family since he was 4 months old; they were the only family he had really ever known. The birth parents relinquished their rights to him but when the foster family was notified, the response was not at all what we had expected. The foster family immediately asked if there would be a monthly per diem and when we could not confirm this information, requested that he be removed from their home immediately. When he was picked up, the foster parents were standing on the porch waiting with him, with only a plastic storage tub of belongings. They could not get him out of the home quick enough. His heart must have been confused and broken feeling rejected and lost. As it turned out, this was the best thing that could have happened to him. He has since been adopted by a family that also adopted some of his cousins. He is loved, taken care of and has been blessed to be able to grow up with some of his own relatives.
The most meaningful event of your time as a CASA?
We exist because something bad has happened. We are present in the lives of these children because of events that have happened to them or that they have witnessed that are very traumatizing and life altering. The irony of the situation does not escape me. Because of the reason for our relationship with these children, I am never quite sure if my presence invokes positive or negative thoughts for them. It is for this reason that I will forever treasure the request of the little girl to come for a visit to see how well she and her siblings had adjusted. Finding families that are willing to adopt children that are recovering from traumatic emotional or physical injuries is a challenge, and near miraculous to place a group of young siblings with all of these challenges together in a forever home. This innocent simple little request made by this beautiful little girl reminded me that I have done something right, that for this one little girl and her siblings I was part of the bridge that helped transport them from great sadness to great happiness. She was now in third grade, had become a cheerleader and had made the honor roll in school. This experience motivates me and reminds me that if I can simply help one child to know a better life that I have made a difference. I also believe, that because of our CASA presence in her life, this little girl will grow up to make a difference too.
What are some of your strongest beliefs about CASA?
I believe that CASA enhances and strengthens the lives of everyone involved. I believe that the work we do for the children truly makes a difference in their lives. Beyond removing them from harmful situations, we act as positive role models and provide reassurance that good people do exist and that these children are loved. I believe it is our responsibility to act as investigative reporters on behalf of the children ensuring that their voices are heard because they cannot possibly grasp or express the full reality of their situations. I believe that because of the professionalism and sensitivity that we apply in our role, that we have gained respect from the authority figures furthering our ability to make a difference for these children. I also believe that each and every one of us experiences personal growth through this labor.
What do you wish other people knew about CASA?
CASA truly can make a difference in a child’s life; it’s not just a slogan. CASA volunteering is selfless. A CASA volunteer may never know if a child remembers the time we spent with them, or even how that time is remembered. We may never see the fruits of our labor, but the labor is no less gratifying. That moment the empty hollow eyes fill with hope, for that moment alone, it’s all worth it.
What would you say to someone considering becoming a CASA?
To be a CASA volunteer is a uniquely important commitment. There are numerous nonprofit organizations that are looking for volunteers. CASA volunteering works for me, but it’s not for everyone. As with all volunteering, there is a need that is not being met, but with CASA volunteering, there is an emotional element that can challenge your inner strength. I have learned that these experiences bring out the best in me and in turn bring out the best in others.
If you feel that you are being called to make a difference in the life of a child, I urge you to consider CASA volunteering. It is as gratifying as it is challenging. I am grateful every day that I made the decision to become a CASA. Before you make the commitment, attend an informational class, research the program online and speak to a volunteer.
Something we would be surprised to know about you?
In Las Vegas, my stage name was Sparkles. I was a performer in my past life and was trained by none other than Barnum and Bailey Circus instructors. I was a licensed clown and spent several years bringing happiness to children through silliness and laughter. This sense of humor and appreciation for the perspective of a child has enhanced my abilities to communicate with the children we protect. I absolutely loved performing and seeing the children smile and giggle.
What do you like to do when you aren’t volunteering as a CASA?
Enjoying life with my husband and our pets, gardening and spending time with my family & friends. Coffee mornings with my Starbucks Girlfriends!!