Voices for our Community’s Children: CASA Advocacy As A Retired Community Member
By Mike Mellina
(This post is part of a series of posts about CASA – Court Appointed Special Advocates. – ABT)
Welcome to the third post in our CASA blog series, which provides a close up look at our advocacy from a CASA volunteer’s perspective.
Today, we have the pleasure of hearing from a tenured CASA volunteer, Mike Mellina, who includes CASA in his various volunteer activities as he seeks to give back to his Waco community.
Mike has been a Court Appointed Special Advocate for six years and is currently appointed to two cases simultaneously, which are the third and fourth cases he has had. Though most advocates are assigned to just one case at a time, Mike is a rock star who has taken on two. Each of his cases have happened to only have one child per case, so he has been an advocate for four children so far.
Before he became an advocate, Mike had no knowledge of CASA, but he saw a billboard or an ad in passing. Then shortly after, he headed to his church, First United Methodist Church Waco, and found a little CASA bookmark clipped to his church name tag with information about becoming a CASA volunteer. He decided to call and learn more, then decided to give it a shot and, as Mike says, “it snowballed from there.”
Mike has been retired for almost nine years and enjoys spending his time giving back to our community. He says volunteering is a good way to fill his time and the fact that he did have time to give helped him take the leap and get involved with CASA.
As mentioned above, Mike didn’t know much about CASA when he jumped in. He went through the training process along with a small group of other advocates, and heard from different CASA staff as well as current advocates during the training, which provided him a good view of the advocacy work involved. The training helped him realize this is not your average volunteer opportunity and that there is a lot involved with advocating for children in foster care. He was able to form a realistic view of what his volunteer role would look like. “All the CASA staff have been super supportive”, Mike said of his time as a volunteer. “I’ve never felt like I’ve been on my own.” He has been involved beyond his casework, such as with continuing education that CASA provides to advocates, and really enjoys helping with public awareness efforts or events that CASA engages in, like a CASA booth at Waco Wonderland or the annual Crawfish for CASA fundraiser event. “I’m willing to pitch in however I’m needed,” Mike said with a smile.
Mike has a bit of advice for anyone considering becoming a CASA. “Be patient and give yourself time, don’t make quick judgments. I like defined goals and no ambiguity and CASA is a lot of ambiguity. If you’re volunteering to pick up trash, you pick it up and put it in the bag. With CASA, there are so many variables. I had no idea how any of this foster care stuff works, and it takes a while to learn all that. Don’t be hard on yourself. The training is good. Rely on the staff support.” He added that even with the learning curve, it is a very doable and rewarding volunteer experience.
When asked what he has enjoyed most about his time as a CASA volunteer, Mike said “Seeing positive results for children. Seeing a kid that you may have had doubts about their chances in life and seeing, to your surprise, the outcome turned out better than you thought it could’ve been for them when you first met them and met their situation. If nobody jumps in, then maybe nothing positive would have happened.”
Mike saw this first hand with one of his CASA cases. When he first met the child involved in the case and learned the circumstances, he thought “this kid doesn’t have a chance”. But in the end, in part because of Mike’s advocacy, he was reunited with family in a safe environment. After the case had closed, Mike reconnected with him and they have kept in contact since, though without any CASA involvement. The child was 14 when the case began and is now about to turn 20, has a great job, is about to get his own apartment. Mike sees him every week and helped him complete his GED. Not only is he doing great personally, but he also chooses to give back to the community and serve in a volunteer role, much like the example Mike has set for him, and he hopes to be able to share his story with other youth in foster care.
To learn more about CASA of McLennan County and the need for more advocates, visit our website at www.casaforeverychild.org or find us on social media @casamclennan.
If you have questions or are ready to begin advocating for children in foster care, email our CASA Recruiter, Kate Gilbert, at [email protected].
Mike Mellina is a retired Wacoan who built his entire career of 38 years at Southwestern Bell, which was purchased by AT&T. He has lived almost his whole life in Texas, except for 2 months as a baby in California. Mike began his career in Houston but transferred his job and moved to Waco in 1983, to be closer to his Dad who operated a ranch in nearby Groesbeck. Mike and his wife, Kate, raised their three kids here, who are now all grown. Mike and Kate have seven grandkids and another one on the way. Aside from his advocacy with CASA, Mike is highly involved in his church, First United Methodist Church Waco. He also gives back to our community as a Reading Buddy in Waco ISD schools and is part of the youth prison ministry out of FUMC.
The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.
Another population in dire need of advocacy are the elderly, living in nursing facilities, whose families (if any) have moved on and left them behind and alone. The loneliness, the fear, the discomfort; all a reality for many people at this stage of life. A good “Volunteer Guardian” (of the person only) program is needed to care for these forgotten souls. The Probate Court-appointed Guardian makes medical decisions and validates the comfort and proper care for the person. I hope that someday this becomes a reality.