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My Transformative Journey as a CASA Intern: Advocacy, Learning, and Empowerment

Valerie Bertolini

I am a fourth-year student pursuing a BA in Community Studies at UCSC. I reached out to CASA of Santa Cruz County to hopefully conduct my full-time field study with them over the course of six months because I was interested in making a difference by working with children and youth within my community. CASA accepted me as an intern and has been exceptionally flexible in working with me and my schedule to fulfill all my field study requirements. 

As I reflect on my experience as a full-time volunteer intern at CASA of Santa Cruz County, I find myself profoundly moved by the impact this journey has had on my understanding of advocacy, child welfare, and the power of community support. Over the course of my internship, I've also had the privilege of serving as a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate), by advocating for children in the foster care system.

To prepare for my role as a CASA, I began my internship by engaging in 35 hours of training sessions to expand my knowledge of child welfare policies and procedures in the dependency and juvenile justice system. This was required to educate me on how to properly advocate for children and youth within these systems. The training deepened my understanding and fortified my advocacy skills, enabling me to navigate complex situations with empathy, compassion, and commitment to upholding the rights of every child in the dependency system.

As a CASA, a few of my responsibilities were to spend a couple hours a week with my assigned youth, being present at court hearings, and ensuring they received the necessary resources and emotional support. My CASA assignment was a little different than the average CASA. The child I was assigned to had already been assigned to a CASA, but I was assigned to the case as well to provide additional support to this CASA who needed extra support during this time. I met with the youth weekly at the CASA house located in Watsonville and spent time with the child and their CASA to get to know them and provide any support to the child or the CASA when needed. Each interaction was an opportunity to be a consistent and understanding presence as well as a friend amidst a turbulent time in their life. This was a great opportunity to be a resource and provide support to a child by directly working within the dependency system.

My internship at CASA consisted of going into the office five days a week and working for CASA under the supervision of my supervisor, Clarita Cortes. As a member of the outreach committee, she supported me in a diverse array of responsibilities, from outreach work to social media management, data entry, tabling, canvassing, and event support. I also supported fundraising events and community outreach initiatives aimed at raising awareness about CASA's mission. By crafting CASA flyers, creating engaging social media content, attending tabling events to recruit volunteers, and presenting to college classes I actively engaged in amplifying CASA’s mission and contributed to increasing volunteer involvement. Witnessing the community's response and increased volunteer involvement reaffirmed the belief that collective action can bring about meaningful change. These experiences not only improved my communication skills but also emphasized the significance of teamwork in achieving our shared goals of advocacy for children and youth.

Throughout my journey at CASA, I have learned that effective advocacy requires not just passion but also patience and time management. I have improved my professional skills by balancing casework, administrative tasks and became proficient in various tools and systems, including Microsoft systems, Excel, Optima, and Canva. Beyond the skills and knowledge I have learned, working with CASA has profoundly impacted me on a personal level. It has taught me the value of empathy, listening without judgment, and being a source of unwavering support for those facing adversity. Every interaction, every moment spent with children and youth, reaffirmed my dedication to advocating for their rights and well-being.

As I conclude this chapter of my journey with CASA, I will carry forward valuable lessons and experiences. I leave with a heart full of gratitude for the opportunity to be a part of an organization dedicated to making a difference in the lives of children. My time as a CASA intern has not just been about fulfilling responsibilities; it's been about embracing a cause, learning from it, and being empowered to continue advocating for those who need a voice.

Thank you, CASA of Santa Cruz County, for this transformative experience that has shaped not just my professional path but also my perspective on compassion, resilience, and the impact of advocacy.