This Saturday, Drew MacLeod will be saddling up and cycling 80 miles for a purpose.
“We’re putting our cycling to work,” he said.
He will be participating in the Break The Cycle of Abuse ride, a fundraiser that also raises awareness about the Yellowstone Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children.
So far the lead program coordinator at CASA has raised more than $500, on his way to a goal of $1,000. More than 20 people have signed up for the ride, which has 20-, 40- and 80-mile route options.
CASA connects young victims of abuse and neglect with court-appointed volunteers.
The volunteers act as an advocate, gathering information and making recommendations to ensure decisions made by Child Protective Services are in the best interest of the child.
“You really have to hand it to those advocates,” MacLeod said. “It’s a lot of work.”
Currently CASA has about 90 advocates, and they intend to keep adding advocates until every child has one. About half of the children in the Yellowstone County Abuse and Neglect Division have an advocate.
“They’re the one constant in the child’s life,” he said. “Kids that have an advocate have more services.”
On average, children with an advocate spend an average of six to eight months less time in the system than youth without advocates. But supporting those advocates doesn’t come cheap.
“It costs about $1,300 to train and support an advocate for one year,” MacLeod said.
Advocates turn around and donate about $200,000 in advocacy for children in Yellowstone County. They come from all walks of life, but all have a common desire to help kids in the system succeed.
“You don’t need to be a lawyer,” he said. “You need to be a caring adult.”
For MacLeod, getting kids’ lives back on track has become his life’s mission. Much of his career has been working with youth.
“I was working on the front lines with the kids,” he said.
He has worked at camps on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation and at the Sioux YMCA in Dupree, S.D.
He also worked at wilderness camps with adjudicated youth in multiple states including Colorado. The purpose of the camps is to take youth into the woods and teach them skills on how to be self-sufficient and how to control their own lives.
“We’d get some gang-bangers from Denver in the woods,” he said. “They would let their guard down and laugh and play. They would act like other kids.”
It was difficult but rewarding, and it gives him a unique perspective in his role at CASA where he supervises volunteers working directly with the kids.
“I think I bring a bit of a perspective on these teens,” he said. “What it’s like for them to be in those tough situations.”
That’s what’s most important. To encourage advocates to speak up so the best decision can be made for the youth they are serving.
“When you have that advocate that walks out of here empowered,” he said. “That’s success.”