Today’s spotlight of the week is fitting for the CASA we are presenting. Today this CASA witnessed the successful close of her first case, with the kiddo being adopted by his grandparents. This week we are thrilled to present Maria Elena Thomas as our CASA spotlight of the week. Maria Elena has been a huge support to Advocates for Children, and we cannot thank her enough for all the hard work she does for this organization. Thank you so much Maria Elena for all your hard work and time that you have dedicated to Advocates for Children. We are so lucky to have you! Also Congratulations on the successful close of your first case!
When I first became a school administrator, 11 years ago, I remember CASAs coming to my school to speak with children. After talking with them I learned that they really enjoyed their volunteer work and I also learned how important that work is on behalf of the children. Additionally, because of my experience working with children and families and my language abilities, I thought I could contribute to youth and families in a meaningful way.
2.) How long have you been a CASA for?
I was appointed as a CASA by Magistrate Janski in May of 2013. I was assigned my first case shortly thereafter.
3.) How many cases have you taken?
I have taken two cases so far. The first case had a positive ending for the infant in a short amount of time. He was adopted by his grandparents. I found the couple to love this child! He has a nice future ahead of him. I took my second case in February of this year. This one is very complicated and it involves three children. I could easily spend 20 hours each week with this family! I think this case will last a long time.
4.) Favorite CASA story or moment?
It’s funny. I was so excited to have been called for my first case. I had been trained and I had made it clear to the case coordinators that I have tons of experience working with immigrant families, that I am fluent in Spanish and that I knew how to work with at-risk youth. I was expecting to be assigned to a Spanish speaking family with school-aged children. So when Andrea presented the case that had been assigned to me, I thought they had made a mistake. The child was an infant, three months old, red-headed, white as could be and from an only English speaking family. The total opposite of what I was expecting! I was so shocked that I asked Andrea to verify that this was the case for me. She even offered that I turn it down if I didn’t feel comfortable with the case. At that moment I realized that I was already committed to this child. I couldn’t turn him down. He needed me and for whatever reason I was the person to help him. In hindsight, I know this was the right case for me. I feel that my advocacy for him was important and meaningful to his future.
5.) Favorite quote?
“Don't prepare the path for the child; prepare the child for the path.” ~Anonymous
I have always liked this quote. The most important work that families can do with children is to instill in them values – values that can be accessed anytime in their future. People go through ups and downs. They may have periods of time when they lack basic needs and even when they have nothing, the one thing that nobody can take away from them is their values. These are deeply rooted in their beings and can be accessed at anytime.
The most important way to prepare children for the path of their lives is to inculcate strong values in them: integrity, the importance of education, unconditional love, honesty, justice, determination, and generosity of spirit. With these, through thick and thin, children will pull through and have a productive future.
When I think about the families that we serve, I wonder about this. I separate the material goods that they may or may not have from the long-lasting values that are being taught and modeled in the family. This gave me an idea of whether the child will be okay in the future or not.
6.) Who is the most influential person in your life?
Every person that I meet is influential in my life. I can’t say that there is one more influential than the other because I will not be the same person I was before meeting the next one! I make it a point to be present for the people that I meet. I want to listen to their stories and seek to understand their points of view. This attitude strengthens me so that I can be a better person for others.
7.) Favorite Children’s book?
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak.
Even though Max misbehaved and he is punished to his room, his mom still loves him! And he knows it. Children will misbehave. Parents must set limits and issue consequences. Unconditional love keeps them together.
8.) When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a veterinarian because I love animals. Then, in college, I found out that science was hard for me. However, I really enjoyed studying French and public relations, so I quickly changed my major.
We are lucky to be able to add Maria Elena to our long list of amazing and life-changing CASA volunteers! Thanks for all that you have done for so many people, Maria Elena, and we know that you will continue to make a positive influence on many more individuals!