Upon learning they could not have biological children of their own, Postal Graphics Owner Ron Martin and his wife Jill went through the foster care system to adopt their daughter Mari.
Knowing there were other kids in the foster care system who needed support, the Martins signed up five years ago to volunteer with CASA of San Benito County, a nonprofit organization that trains and supports community volunteers who advocate for abused or neglected children placed in foster care. CASA helps to uphold children’s rights while they find them a safe, permanent home.
“I own my own business in town and I had free time,” Martin said. “I wanted to volunteer with an organization that helped kids and made a difference.”
Advocates focus on the best interest of the child and ensure basic needs are met, according to Executive Director Esther Curtice.
“This means evaluating quality of life, physical and emotional well-being, engaging the children in positive relationships, addressing academic achievement, facilitating needed services, and monitoring compliance with court orders and case progress,” Curtice said. “They are a friend, a mentor. Most importantly, the advocate is the responsible and reliable adult the child can count on during a very emotional, confusing, and difficult time in their life.”
Martin, who spends a couple hours a week volunteering with CASA, said he learns the interests of the children he works with and then supports them in those interests. As an example, Martin took a previous foster child who loved football to the park to throw a ball around. He took another child who loved games to Mars Hill Coffeehouse in order to play board games.
In addition to spending time one-on-one with his foster child, Martin said he spends 30 minutes on a monthly report, as well as a report “at the end of the quarter or a quarter appointment” with Curtice for the court.
Martin said that as the county grows, he hopes the number of volunteers will increase.
“I just think that obviously we need more advocates,” Martin said. “There are more kids out there than advocates. I encourage people out there if they love kids (to participate). It does not require a lot of time you know, an hour or two a week. Everyone has an hour or two a week they can spare.”
“CASA does not have enough volunteers,” Curtice said. “We are always looking to recruit and train additional advocates. We especially have a shortage of male advocates.”
According to the organization’s website, there is an average of over 80 children placed in the San Benito County foster care system each year due to parental abuse or neglect.
“This is where CASA of San Benito County steps in,” the website reads. “The CASA program recruits, trains, and prepares volunteers to become advocates for foster children. The volunteer receives 33 hours of professional training before being sworn in as an Officer of the Court and assigned to a child’s case.”
Volunteers consist of adults 21 years or older and are made up of different genders, ages, ethnicities, and socio-economic statuses. All volunteers must pass a background and reference check, be willing to commit to 18 months with a child, and show a willingness and desire to support a child in the foster care system.
“Children who are in the foster care system are going through a very stressful and difficult time in their life,” Curtice said. “Often they are placed with strangers in a foster home sometimes outside of our community, they are enrolled at a different school away from friends and people they know. The advocate is the one person who is a mentor, supporter, and friend who consistently visits the child, works on any issues the child may encounter, and provides some sense of normalcy and stability.”
Martin says the greatest joy comes when his child receives that stability and is permanently placed in a home. In all four of Martin’s cases, his assigned child was either placed back in the care of their biological parents or with another family member after meeting certain requirements of the court.
Despite the Martin family’s positive experience, there are still children in the community in need.
Said Curtice: “I believe that it is our collective responsibility (as a community) to take care of the children from San Benito County. Sometimes it is uncomfortable and difficult, however everyone should step up and do their part to take care of the children of our community. It takes a village to raise a child!”
Information on CASA of San Benito County can be found on the nonprofit organization’s website.