As I quietly entered Michael's hospital room, I noticed that he was taking one of his short and infrequent naps that were always filled with troubling dreams. Michael did not have a normal sleep pattern. I could not help but remember how he was so full of life with great plans for his future.
As a little child he loved airplanes and big trucks, the bigger the better. At 4 years old, he would wear his uncle's football jersey, set his baseball cap backwards using the strap as his mouthpiece, and make endless touchdowns. Never missing a day of school, he was an A student from kindergarten to 8th grade.
It was easy to see that Michael was very troubled when he woke from his nap. His eyes always told his unspoken words. Although no details were given, this dream was no less troubling than others in the past. He simply asked, "Why do children have to suffer so much? Someone has to do something to help them. They shouldn't have to suffer so much."
Those were profound and haunting words that would later give me pause to re-assess my focus and efforts in my community. I had no idea where the avenues were or how to even begin to help the "suffering children" that Michael spoke of. So I started with a prayer.
While skimming the local newspapers for what is now in unknown areas in the recesses of my mind, my eyes were caught by words that said something to the effect of "You Can Be a Voice for a Child." It was an advertisement for the next Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) training.
CASA of the Virgin Islands is a not-for-profit organization staffed by a director, a volunteer coordinator and approximately 30 dedicated volunteers from all walks of life. After intensive training, volunteers advocate on behalf of abused and neglected children in court proceedings.
Volunteers are assigned one case at a time. An advocate assists the judge by gathering and providing detailed information about the child and offers recommendations based on what she/he believes is in the best interest of the child. The judge is then able to make a more informed decision. As CASAs, we indeed give the children a strong voice. We put a face next to their names and detail pertinent aspects of their daily lives to the court that may have an impact on their case.
It is by no means an easy job. However, many are the priceless rewards when you see progress attained, success achieved, and a child looking at you and giving you a big toothless grin where before was a look of indifference or mistrust. When promises are not made but reality is simplified and explained, and trust is built. When you see the child you advocated for proudly walk as a member of a graduation class and looking forward to college. When a family fights its battles and is reunited with hopes of a brighter future.
By no means do we say to a child that life is easy; we do say there are ways to resolve situations. We help by showing the children we serve that goals can be set and achieved. These are but a few things in which we do make a difference. These are but a few things that help to ease the suffering of children.
Three years have passed since my vigils in Michael's hospital room. You see, Michael never left that room. A vicious assailant deprived him of a future that was so full of promise. He physically passed from this life three years ago, but his spirit lives on in the many lives he touched. He made a great difference in my life. He was a young man wise beyond his short years. Now, his life is celebrated, his joy remembered.
As a CASA volunteer I strive to help a child by taking away the suffering — or at the very least, alleviating it — and show that there are people who care, that we are listening to what each of them has to say, and that we are speaking on their behalf.
An unknown author wrote, "A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove. But the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child."
CASA is committed to making a difference in children's lives, one child at a time. If you would like to make a difference, to be a child's voice, call CASA at 773-2626 to learn more. Information about the program also can be found at the CASA of the V.I. Web site.
Editor's note: Mary Roebuck is a volunteer with CASA of the V.I., which provides child advocate services on St. Croix.
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