In honor of Father’s Day, the Porter County Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs) are celebrating the men who volunteer their time to support children in need. Hailing from different backgrounds and bringing a range of skill sets, these men all share one thing in common– how much they care for kids.
“Advocates volunteer among chaos,” said Dr. Tim Knauff, Senior Pastor at Christ Lutheran Church in Valparaiso and CASA volunteer of three years. “When it is necessary for the Court to be involved with a young person, there are suddenly many, many floating pieces. Involvement includes not only the young person, but perhaps multiple parents, grandparents, and extended family members, siblings, friends, school personnel, and agencies.”
“I have found the significance of being an advocate is contained in some of the first words I share with my new young person,” Knauff said. ”I tell them many times, ‘I am always going to be on your side. I hope you will learn to trust that my only focus is you!’ Think what that can mean for someone who is now experiencing upheaval and chaos.” Volunteer Tim Carey has been with the program for just over a year and believes very strongly in the impact men can have as CASA volunteers.
“It's critical that men understand that taking care of these children isn't someone else’s job,” Carey said. “We have a responsibility to care for those who are vulnerable and in need around us.”
“It's such important work to care for the kids around us,” he continued. “We need to show the next generation that love and kindness freely given can make all the difference in the world. So many of these kids don't have anyone to turn to, and it's our responsibility to be that person to those in need.”
For Jim Tyll, a CASA volunteer for the last two years, the in-depth work with children and their families may not have come naturally, but has ultimately been very rewarding. “Volunteering as a CASA is opposite of what I have been doing all my life,” Tyll said. “Being intimately involved in other people’s lives is not something I have ever done, but yet the thought of helping other people’s children is compelling.”
According to Emily Hoak, Development Assistant and CASA Supervisor, only 13 percent of Porter County CASA volunteers are men, though 46 percent of the children they work with are boys.
Many of the men that do volunteer are fathers and grandfathers themselves, and credit their parenthood with helping them guide and support the children assigned to their care.
“I feel I understand the stresses of fatherhood and the need for more reinforcement of a dad's potential in strengthening a family,” said Elias Crim, who just recently began volunteering as a CASA. Carey has had a similar experience. “Being a father has made my CASA work feel all that more important. My own children are a daily reminder of how vulnerable and impressionable these children truly are, and how they need someone to trust and talk with,” he said. “Someone who they know cares for them.”
Rob Maciel, in his fourth year of volunteering, agrees that being a father has made some parts of the program easier to adopt, but he is also quick to point out that it is by no means a prerequisite.
“Having children provided me with a benchmark as to how I would behave around other children,” Maciel said. “But once you’re assigned a case, that parental ‘protection’ gene lights up and you’re now on the lookout for anything that would bollix up that child’s life any more than they’ve already been traumatized.”
He said he knows he may not always come across as the most outwardly caring or supportive person and uses his strengths where he can.
“I have a ‘process/fix it’ mindset, and I’m lured to the technical aspects of the case,” Maciel said. “Any or all of these things will have an impact on my children and I need to understand the repercussions accordingly. I have no special skills to deploy with a child; it’s just one human interacting with another.”
As the son of a father who served in the military for 40+ years and then continued to donate time at a local Veterans Administration hospital after retirement, Maciel saw first-hand how that kind of contribution made an impact on his community. He absorbed the motivation to volunteer “by osmosis,” he said.
Jim Tyll was also heavily influenced by his father.
“My father was a very good man,” Tyll said. “He served in the Navy in the Pacific theatre in World War II. I never served in the military and I consciously felt that it was my turn to serve something, somewhere.”
So too was Elias Crim. “I had a very loving dad – not perfect but very committed to me, my two sisters, and our mom,” he said.
Likewise, Brian Johnson, a new CASA volunteer, said that his father was a "great example of giving and helping".
In contrast, it was the absence of a strong father figure in Tim Carey’s childhood that instilled in him the need to be there for other children when he could.
“I believe that growing up that way began to press the concern on my heart of those children in need, who don't have parents speaking out for them or caring for them,” Carey said. “I want children to know that there are always people who love them and are concerned about their well-being.”
Rob Maciel said he is particularly proud of his work with the Porter County CASA organization and wanted to encourage anyone with the time and inclination, especially men, to consider volunteering.
“The Porter County CASA organization consists of the most devoted people to this cause of advocating on a child’s behalf that I have ever known,” he said. “For what they all do I can think of no parallels, that includes the CASA staff and the remarkable advocate volunteers. It is a privilege for me to be associated with this organization. Being a CASA is not for everyone but there likely is a child in your community, your neighborhood, or down the street that needs you to step up and at least try,” Maciel concluded.
Porter County CASA thanks Rob, John, Jim, Elias, Brian, Tim, Doc, John, and Larry for their advocacy for children in need.
Porter County CASA, a program of Family & Youth Services Bureau, will be holding a CASA Volunteer Information Meeting at 5:30 pm on July 16th at FYSB located at 253 W. Lincolnway in Valparaiso. This is an opportunity find out about the role of CASAs, why they are needed, and what requirements and training are involved in becoming a volunteer. For more information about volunteering with the Porter County CASA organization, please call 219-464-9585 or visit their partner page at https://www.valpolife.com/partner-profiles/319-casa---court-appointed-special-advocates.