Being a CASA is hard, taxing work—sometimes physically, almost always mentally and emotionally. I have personally worked three separate cases over the last five years. Each case is unique with challenges, disappointments, rewards, and successes. As a peer coordinator, I have overseen multiple other cases and walked alongside fellow Court Appointed Special Advocates as they maneuver their case load. Each and every case has unexpected twists, turns, and outcomes, but none are of any more value than another. It is all about making a difference in the life of a child who has been caught in undesirable circumstances. I have seen the CASA program be successful at this goal many times over. As a CASA blogger, I am privileged to share one of my most personal and successful CASA stories. It is meant to encourage at a time when being a CASA has many new, and honestly, discouraging challenges. (That is a topic for another day.)

My story begins four years ago when I chose my second case: A little second grader who seemingly was dealt a crummy hand. Her life by age eight was riddled with abuse and neglect. She was coming to school unkempt, dirty, tired, malnourished, and not potty trained. Oh, and she has cerebral palsy. Under the caring and loving eyes of her school staff, the situation was reported to authorities. Hope was placed in emergency protective services under the care of two of her amazing teachers until a kinship placement could be arranged.

Within a couple weeks, Hope was potty trained. Her appearance changed. She began to read and catch up on her school work. She started exercising on her special bike. She was making laps around the halls in her walker. She learned to sit in a “normal” chair like the other kids. She began developing friendships. She started to blossom.

My first meeting with Hope was in the school lunch room where she was sitting with a teacher and another student playing UNO and reading books. Our first visit was short, but sweet. I couldn’t wait to see her again. I quickly learned that Hope loved chicken nuggets and root beer. That became our Friday ritual. I was honored to walk by her side over the next three years as her birth mom battled addiction. Many times when I arrived at school I would catch her tears as she missed her mom. She had weekly visits with Mom—some were good, some were bad, some would last a hour or two, some would be cut short at a few minutes because Mom had better things to do, some never happened because Mom never showed up. Those bad or lacking visits were followed by bad days at school and home with poor behavior or the need to be tightly snuggled while the tears flowed.

Within a couple months a kinship placement was approved for Hope. She moved into that home surrounded by familiar faces that she had known over the years. They took her in and loved her as their own. It wasn’t always pretty, actually more ugly and raw as they endured three years of ups and downs in the court system. But it was a fit orchestrated by Someone far bigger than us. Her foster mom is a nurse and well able to care for Hope and her unique medical needs. There is a strong male in the house well able to assist in transporting Hope and affectionately spoil her. She calls him “Uncle.” She even has a “Gram.” Then there is also a “brother” who Hope admires with all her heart.

Fast forward to the present. Hope was adopted by her kinship placement in April of 2019. She wanted to keep her last name as well as get a new one. So, her last name is now hyphenated and she is very proud of it. One day she wants a relationship with her birth mother. As Hope has gotten older and matured she realizes that may indeed happen one day, but not until Mom is safe and healthy. Last fall, Hope got a new electric wheel chair. She has transitioned over to middle school like a boss. COVID virtual learning was not a good fit for Hope. She is tickled to be back in school sporting a mask. I think she should be an Egyptian princess for Halloween. She is absolutely beautiful inside and out.

We have shared much over the last four years –

Many chicken nuggets at school and at the park over the summer. Most of these visits were good. A couple of them were pretty hard. We played Bunco or Matches or Hang Man or War or Garbage. Sometimes we would just visit or do a craft or paint our nails. We would have a great time. But there were days when we had to talk about some hard stuff. On one occasion Hope asked me to leave and not come back as I had reprimanded her about some behavior. I left school that day brokenhearted.  I told Hope to let me know when I could come back. Our breakup lasted a week.

Christmas and Spring Programs at school. She now sings in Chorus.

Visits to the therapist. She still goes to get help with processing all that life has thrown at her.

We skied together a couple of times. Thank you, Eagle Mount.

Birthday parties. She will be a teenager in May!

Private, heart conversations that I will always protect

Last, but not least, Special Olympics. Rain or shine, warm or cold, I watched as Hope trained and competed every spring. Her disability is not a disability. It is who she is. She embraces it fully. She wishes no one to feel sorry for her. She only requests that you give her time to speak. When people baby talk to her she cringes. Last year (COVID cancelled the Special Olympics this year) I sat in the stands with Hope’s adoptive mom. I was no longer her CASA but a personal friend to Hope and the family. They have so kindly allowed me to maintain my relationship with them. As we sat in the stands that May day, waiting for the Olympic events, we talked on a more personal level; so glad the legal matter is all behind us. I slipped her my daughter’s phone number to pass along to her son (Hope’s new brother). Next week our kids are getting married. Hope is going to carry the rings.

Corinna Byler was sworn in as a Court Appointed Special Advocate in 2015 and is currently a volunteer Peer Coordinator.