I grew up in Santa Ana as a first generation American born to parents who immigrated from Mexico. I attended schools in Santa Ana and, after graduating from Cal State Fullerton, went on to graduate studies at Cal State Long Beach where I’m working towards a school psychology degree.
As I learned about childhood development and worked in the classroom as an instructional aide, I discovered a passion for supporting students. I enjoyed collaborating with a team of people to figure out how to best meet the needs of students.
It was through my program that I first learned about Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA). CASA trains volunteers to provide a powerful voice and a meaningful connection for children who have experienced abuse, neglect and abandonment. I learned that there is a tremendous need for young men to volunteer as only 15% of CASAs are men and very few of them are under 40 years of age. This felt like a good fit with my studies and I wanted to help close the gap for CASA youth in need of male mentors.
CASA provided almost 40 hours of comprehensive no-cost training which offered a good overview of the ways youth end up in the foster care system. I learned a lot about the impact of trauma and the meaningful role a CASA can play in helping a youth become more confident and independent. I learned that there are currently 3,882 Orange County youth in the foster care system, 2,835 of whom are not currently being served by a CASA. The impact of a CASA on a child’s life has a profound impact on the likelihood they will graduate from high school and develop a life of self-sufficiency.
Upon completing my CASA training, I was matched with Jorge* who was eight years younger than me and a senior in high school. At first, I thought it might be awkward mentoring someone so close in age to me and was concerned I might not be taken seriously. But I found that I was able to relate to many of the challenges and pressures he faces in school and in transitioning to more autonomy as an adult. I often think about what I needed to know as I was about to finish high school and transition into adulthood. Together we focus on ways I can help support him as he develops the skills he needs and builds his confidence. We recently navigated getting his identification card at DMV and have set both short term and longer range goals to help him develop the living skills he needs.
I grew up in a bilingual home so Jorge and I communicate in both Spanish and English since English is his second language. When there is an opportunity to help him practice his speaking skills or take on new goals, I try to provide information in both English and Spanish. Currently, over half the youth in foster care are Hispanic/Latino yet only 12% of CASA volunteers are from a similar ethnic background. There is a tremendous need for greater diversity amongst our volunteer team to better represent the population of our youth.
Throughout my time as a CASA, I have felt supported and have enjoyed collaborating with my CASA Case Supervisor and with Jorge’s social worker to develop ways we can best support him. The CASA training provided me with the tools I needed to understand the unique needs of CASA youth and I feel they have been there to support me every step of the way.
If you’d like to learn more about how you can change a child’s life by volunteering with CASA, please visit www.casaoc.org/volunteer. The process for becoming a CASA volunteer begins with attending an information session on April 23rd or April 27th and submitting an application. Once the application is approved, you are eligible to begin training. The next training session begins Thursday, May 5th so applications must be in by May 1st.
*Name changed to protect youth’s privacy
Mario Jaramillo is a first generation American. He attended school in Santa Ana and, after graduating from Cal State Fullerton, went on to graduate studies at Cal State Long Beach where he’s working towards a school psychology degree. He has been a CASA for two years.
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