From Russia with love: Baylor student advocates for foster children
By Lucas Land
Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs) all have their own story about how they became advocates. Not all of them start in Russia.
Sasha Messer is a senior psychology major at Baylor University, but when she was 4 years old, she and her brother were adopted from Russia. She grew up in Dallas and says it was often difficult growing up. “I didn’t always understand what people were saying when I was learning English and knew from an early age that I was different,” Sasha says of what she remembers from that transition.
Overall, she had a good experience and was raised in a very stable home with two good role models who provided what she needed. However, because of her experience, Sasha can understand what children in foster care are going through in a way that many of us can’t. So, when she learned about CASA on an episode of Dr. Phil, she knew she wanted to help out.
CASA is part of a nationwide organization of advocates, with 948 chapters in 49 states and more than 97,000 volunteers. CASA volunteers are everyday people – teachers, business people, retirees, stay-at-home parents, and grandparents – who are committed to making a difference for children who might otherwise slip through the cracks in an overburdened foster care system.
CASA advocates are appointed by a judge and assigned to a case where they spend time getting to know the child(ren) involved. Their purpose is to gather as much information about the child(ren), as well as all the stakeholders in their life, such as family of origin, foster placement, doctors, teachers, CPS workers, etc. All of this information is then compiled into a report for the court.
But CASA advocates have to be 21 years or older, so Sasha looked for other ways that she could help. She worked answering calls for the National Suicide Hotline, where she talked to a lot of kids and heard about the difficult things they were going through.
During the pandemic Sasha learned how to make candles, and during the summer of 2020 she started Walking Stick Candle Co. to sell them at a new market in Celina. She still wanted to give back so she decided to donate a portion of her proceeds to CASA of McLennan County.
“I looked into different organizations and knew that a lot needed extra help. Hearing stories about kids left at home in difficult situations without the usual escape of school made me want to help kids in foster care,” Sasha said.
In 2020 Sasha also turned 21 and decided it was finally time to become a CASA advocate. She applied and completed her training in October 2020, attending three evening classes via Zoom and completing many hours of online reading and work. She was sworn in by Judge Nikki Mundkowsky on Nov.3, 2020, to officially become a Court Appointed Special Advocate. She has now been assigned to her first case and is looking forward to working on it.
Sasha is also looking forward to graduating, but hasn’t made definite plans yet for after graduation. No matter what, it is clear that she will continue to find ways to help others and make a difference. If you are interested in making a difference for children in foster care, you can learn more about becoming a CASA by visiting casaforeverychild.org, calling (254) 304-7982, or emailing [email protected].
Lucas Land is director of communication and development for CASA of McLennan County. He loves living in Waco and finding ways to connect, get to know, and give back to this community. Lucas lives in the Sanger Heights neighborhood with his spouse, three kids, and their dog, Jayber.
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