Courting Kids

CASA volunteer Devon Mansell likes to bring her chihuahua mix, Monty, and golden retriever, Zellie, on visits with kids, because the kids love having them around.

At 26, Reyna Gabot comes across as composed and determined. It’s hard to imagine her as a 13-year-old who stormed out of the library or refused to do her homework, but Gabot remembers that time.

She credits her Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for changing the course of her life as she went through the foster care system. Her CASA was the person who never lost patience, who Gabot calls her “life coach,” noting it’s the little things – like sending postcards and teaching her proper grammar – that really add up.

“As a foster kid, no one ever really makes you feel that important,” Gabot says, “unless you have a CASA.”

CASA for Monterey County is a nonprofit that provides support to youth who are in the foster care system, matching trained volunteers to youth ages 5-21. CASA workers undergo background checks and go through extensive training before they are paired with a child. (Last year, CASA volunteers served 316 foster children in Monterey County.) They organize enriching outings, meet with teachers and also appear with kids in court hearings and present written reports to judges noting what they believe is in the child’s best interest.

“That adult is there to comfort them, let them know they’ve got somebody in their corner, be someone they can rely on who doesn’t lie to them, doesn’t manipulate them and is there for them,” CASA Executive Director Vicki Myers says.

For Gabot, that meant having someone there to nurture her passions. She doesn’t think she’d be on her current career path, working as a pastry chef in Monterey, without her CASA who taught her to bake and helped her enter baked goods at the Monterey County Fair.

Gabot also recalls the support from her CASA in the legal setting: “She actually said what I needed to say in court because I couldn’t say it.”

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Former social worker Devon Mansell is a CASA volunteer who has worked with children and hopes to take on a teenager as her next CASA kid.

“You really form a relationship with the child and not only do you get to give them your time and get to know them, but you also get to be a voice for that child,” Mansell says.

CASA for Monterey County has historically served children ages 5 and up. Their Big Idea is to match volunteers to younger children, from birth to age 5. “If you want to make a difference, you’ve got to get to these kids early on in life,” Myers says.

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