Richelle Tilghman

1.     What made you decide to become a CASA?
Before I had ever heard of CASA and the wonderful work they do, there was always a sense of helplessness when I would hear terrible stories on the news of neglected children or the needs of foster care children.  I knew I wanted to help but had no idea how and the scope just seemed so large it was hard to see how one person could make a difference. Enter a friend who invited me to her company’s fundraiser which was benefitting CASA. Once I learned what this incredible organization does, I knew this was exactly what I needed to do to help the kids of my community.

2.     What is your professional/volunteer background?
I have been a makeup artist for sixteen years and a proud mom for seven.

3.     What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about becoming a CASA?
Go to an information session! Being a CASA volunteer isn’t for everyone but more people are suited for it than they might think. These children in care need someone who is a consistent presence, someone to speak up for their needs. It doesn’t take much time but can make all the difference in the trajectory of a child’s life. We can’t wait around and hope someone else will step in and help—it is up to us to get into the fray and do what we can to make our little part of the world a better place.

4.     What has been the most challenging part of being a CASA?
Realizing firsthand the system isn’t perfect has been incredibly frustrating. Decisions are sometimes made without your child’s best interest in mind despite your best efforts.

5.     What has been the most rewarding part of being a CASA?
There isn’t a better feeling in the world than your kiddo finally getting a forever home, whether that’s back home with his mom who has worked so hard to come back stronger and better than before or getting officially adopted by the family that has loved her like their own since the first day she came into their home as a tiny foster baby.

6.     Is there anything else you would like to add about yourself or your CASA experience?Being a CASA for the past four years has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I am extraordinarily proud to be a part of this organization.

“Richelle is an exceptional CASA Advocate, she has been Advocating  for more than 4 years. For the 7 months that I have been working with Richelle, I have admired the dedication that she has for the children. Richelle is a strong-willed person and does not hesitate to voice her concerns in court for the best interest of the children.  As a Casework Supervisor I am fortunate to be working with an Advocate such as Richelle. “—Mayra Guzman, Casework Supervisor

Nicole Clark

Spring is in the air, and so is a wave of transition and change. We all adjust ourselves to the warmer weather and face looming pre-summer deadlines, but on the whole, transition is a calm, expected part of life. Not so lucky are the many children in our own county who face countless uncontrollable transitions every day, from being shuffled between schools to being shuffled between homes. The level of uncertainty these children face is unimaginable for most of us, but for CASA advocate Nicole Clark, 31, it is a reality she sees in her casework regularly.

“Things get misplaced in the many transitions,” Clark said of children in foster care who she serves as a CASA.

“In school, they deal with homework, then there’s STARR testing coming up, and then there are medical concerns like keeping up with glasses.”

Often-times children in care are facing transitions that keep them from succeeding in school. Clark explained the importance of recognizing the needs of children in care that might otherwise fall through the cracks.

“Child Protective Services does everything they can, but having a CASA means someone is paying attention to those children on an individual level.”

CASA provides an important opportunity for these children: nearly one on one attention throughout their entire time removed from their homes. When a child on one of her two cases celebrated a birthday recently, Clark mentioned how valuable CASA was to the child. Along with another advocate assigned to the case, Clark made sure that the birthday was personalized and special to the child.

 “[The child] was just ecstatic to get gifts from people who really knew [the child],” Clark said. “Most of the time if a child in care gets a birthday present, it’s something out of a grab bag, but we were able to give [the child] something special and personal.”

Clark’s Casework Supervisor, Amanda Spharler, considers Clark a model advocate at CASA.

“Nicole is a dynamo,” Spharler said. “She never stops asking what she could do to improve the child’s situation, and then takes action to make it happen.”

Being a great advocate means more than being able to build a great rapport with the child. In regards to Clark’s role as an advocate in court, Spharler reiterated that Clark has been an incredibly effective volunteer with CASA throughout both of the cases she has taken thus far.

“Nicole has great instincts when considering the best interest of the child, and although she isn’t afraid to speak her mind, she is very thoughtful about remaining neutral instead of siding with the adult parties in the case,” Spharler said. “She never forgets she is there for the child.”

While some advocates are unable to continue to help children following the closure of a case, Clark has taken the initiative to identify how she can continue to help the children she served in her last case. Clark maintains a prominent role as an advocate for the children who need her.

“She has visited schools, talked to counselors, helped her kids explore college options, and has even taken a teen to tour colleges after she was no longer the CASA on the case,” Spharler said,

While clear to outsiders that Clark is a standout volunteer, Clark herself maintains that her role as an advocate comes from a place of understanding her own advantages in life.

“I look at my life and my own family and I realize that we’re so blessed,” Clark said. “It’s not a child’s fault that he or she is in this situation.”

The children served by CASA face uncertainty and possibly stressful transitions during their time in care, but CASA’s advocates, like Clark, provide a single constant upon which these children can always rely.

“Every child needs someone looking out for them,” Clark said. “That’s why I do this.”