Tag Archives: Volunteer

What’s it like to be a CASA: You Don’t Give Up and You Keep Trying (Part 2 of 2)

In this two-post series I describe my experience working with foster youth as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA). Read my first post for an introduction to CASA.

I have a high-paced job, what if I can’t fulfill the requirements of being a CASA?

I have never found this to be a challenge. My supervisors are very understanding. I would make sure that you are focusing on the substance of the relationship that you are creating, and not about the amount of time you are spending. While it is important to put in about one hour a week, I find myself putting in much more because it is natural. You don’t limit your relationships to one hour.

Some weeks it can be up to six or seven hours, and other weeks thirty minutes.Your foster youth also has different needs which will necessitate different types of communication such as in-person meeting, phone, text, etc.

I do encourage you to submit your log every month. This is important for CASA to show and demonstrate the important work that you are doing and also, for your court reports. When you look back at your log, it is much easier to read them. Finally, it is most important to keep your supervisor informed of what is going on.

Have I ever felt uncomfortable with any type of inappropriate sexual situations?

Never. I don’t think, at least in my case. My youth is not thinking about that. He is thinking about how to survive.

What was one of my high points with your youth?

I have to say one of my high points (my youth is 20, so on the older end) was taking a risk. He and I have set up a weekly dinner, and it came to me for our next dinner that I should give him a teddy bear.

I thought to myself “Is this crazy? Giving a 20-year-old a teddy bear?”

It turned out to be the most heartfelt and fruitful dinner. It brought back childhood memories of his teddy bear and what it meant to him. And also how it got destroyed by him and his older brother. The teddy bear ended up becoming headless and eyeless…! (And we didn’t really get more into this).

But I encourage you to follow your gut instinct. Even if it feels strange to give a 20-year-old a teddy bear, you may be helping them reconnect with their childhood, reconnect with positive thoughts or open up unresolved issues that need to be discussed. It was a moment where I felt I was able to give him back a part of his childhood, something that we should all have. A place where we are cared for, safe and are given things that make us feel comforted and loved.

What surprised me about being a CASA?

I was surprised by how many life skills these youths need to learn and how much it relates to mental health. My entire view of mental health has been completely changed. Before I thought about mental health in very drastic terms such as depression or suicide — major things.

Now I view mental health as the ability to take responsibility in life. Not having models; not being able to take action and show up to a job training; not being able to communicate clearly; not being able to return phone calls; getting overwhelmed by setting up an appointment; fear of attaining an ID because it means responsibility… all of these things wrap up to me of mental health and primarily stem back to not having a beneficial role model. This has led to an incredible level of insecurity and lack of feeling safe in the world which prevents them, often, from being responsible citizens. That’s why you’re there, to help them navigate life, in essence.

Is there anything else I would like to share?

Sometimes, I think you have to realize that it doesn’t always feel like your efforts have made a difference — but you don’t know that.  

For example, my youth started off on the streets. We have gotten him into housing but he is not fulfilling the requirements and it looks like he is on the pathway to being kicked out. It took us ten times for us to get his ID, but now he has it. He is starting to set up appointments for job training, but then he doesn’t show up to them. He is starting to get assistance from the state, but then he trades his food cards for marijuana. So you see, a lot of back and forth. Don’t let that get you down.

The important thing is that you show up and you provide love and consistency for them that they may have never had in their lives. Even if their external circumstances don’t seem to change, you can know that somewhere deep in their soul they have felt your love. It is not just about being an American “doer” and seeing the results within a six month period because often that won’t happen.

What do I do if my youth does not show up when I contact them?

You just put in your log

Didn’t show up

Didn’t show up

Didn’t show up

You’re just honest about it. In my case, it was six months before my youth really engaged with me, but you just don’t give up. That is one of the most important things, otherwise, they think you’re “yet another person who gave up on them”. If you’re a CASA you need to stick with what you’re doing and be super committed to it.

What really helped me?

I think for me, my mindset is: this person is not my family member, but I want to work with them and advocate for them as I would for one my nephews. I am very close with my nephews and I want the best for them. They really are great people and great friends of mine, so with my youth, I thought the same thing: “I really want to help them achieve the best in life”.

When you come out with this kind of standard, that sets the tone for all your other interactions.

You don’t give up and you keep trying.

Would you want someone to give up on you?

Read my first post in this two-part series here.

Support CASA

If you want to give to CASA, please donate here.

If you would like to train to become a CASA, please contact the National Association here.

If you want to train in San Francisco, click here.


What’s it like to be a CASA: You Don’t Give Up and You Keep Trying (Part 1 of 2)

In this two-post series I describe my experience working with foster youth as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA). 

Background: Nationwide and San Francisco CASA

Court Appointed Special Advocate Program (CASA) serves as a voice for abused or neglected children all across the United States by providing affected youth with a much-needed volunteer advocate. Instead of learning and forming quality relationships with loving adults and peers in their lives, these children are spending their time attending court hearings, adjusting to new foster homes and switching schools often. CASA helps ensure safety and love for the most vulnerable children by having almost 1,000 programs across 49 states with volunteers who are passionate about serving. CASA serves over 240,000 neglected children nationwide.

San Francisco CASA helps ensure youths don’t get lost in the overburdened legal and social service system or reside in an inappropriate group or foster home. The court appointed and well-vetted volunteers strive to make a difference in their youth’s lives by serving their best interests in courts and in life. SF CASA has trained about 2,500 volunteers and has advocated for over 263 court-dependent children over the past year. It is imperative that CASA continues to grow to serve our nation’s most susceptible youth.

My Background with CASA

I’m very fortunate to be a CASA, Court Appointed Special Advocate, which helps ensure foster care youth receive needed services and support. The other night I was honored to be at a CASA panel where they asked me questions about my experiences with my youth and CASA. I’ve shared here what it’s like to be a CASA, which is unique to everyone’s experience.

Read the second post of this series here.

Want to Volunteer? Three Things To Ask

How do you pick the right volunteer experience for you? It’s important to be diligent in your choice of organizations when volunteering. Ask yourself the following questions to determine which experience best fits your goals.

  1. What cause is important to you?

Identify your greatest passions. What is a problem you want to solve? Who are people you want to connect with? If you don’t have answers to those questions, don’t worry. Sometimes you know, and sometimes not! That’s where you just have to try, learn more about the cause, and see if it engages your mind and emotions.

This is why volunteering is so great. You can always try it, commit for a reasonable time, and then try something different. Start with an area about which you are curious, such as education, the environment, or health care. Interested in animal conservation? Volunteer with Pandas International to assist conservationists in caring for pandas. That raises another point: You can use volunteering to explore another part of the world. Working with Globe Aware in Peru, for example, will allow you to engage in a way much beyond that of a tourist.

  1. What is the organization like?

The nonprofit sector continues to grow, with new organizations popping up daily. Understanding the organizational structure is critical to a positive volunteer experience. Would you like to work in a larger organization that might have more resources but is more rigid? Or a smaller, entrepreneurial organization that has less fiscal support but multiple opportunities to serve?

You also need to consider the leadership structure. Are they friendly, open, willing to give you opportunities? Do you see yourself enjoying your day working with them? If you answer yes, then most likely you will have a positive relationship. They will want to see you grow and develop, and you will want to help them. It’s a “win-win” for everyone. Try to meet with the leader or volunteer manager prior to starting to ensure it’s a good fit.

  1. How much time can you dedicate?

Be realistic about the amount of time you can spend volunteering. Often, volunteers comment that they benefit from investing a lot of time becoming a part of the “nonprofit family.” You can learn the ins and outs of the organization and gain greater expertise.

However, you may have time only to help on weekends every now and then. That’s great, too. It’s just a different kind of experience. Volunteering one time to help a soup kitchen pack meals for families for the holidays is a good example. You’ve helped fill a need, and your heart is filled, too!

You’ve got a heart to give. Now, take the time to think about how you want to volunteer. By being thoughtful, you’ll use your time well and get the most out of your experience. (It also helps the nonprofit!) No matter what, you’ll be a better person. And the world will be better, too.

Visit Duke University’s website where Pamela can answer your questions on social innovations and nonprofits here! 

Nonprofits Are Messy With Joan Garry

Earlier this September, I was given an opportunity to talk with Joan Garry about the benefits of volunteering. If you find this episode helpful, insightful, or provocative, let us know by commenting below!




The Duke Connection: Interview with Pamela

Priority- After school program for kids in Nicaragua - croppedI was recently interviewed by Peter Shi, a current student of Duke University (Go Duke!). It was great speaking with him and sharing my experiences as a social entrepreneur. My goal is to always be able to inspire others to find their path and their calling, and I hope that my words below can help in making that happen.

Our Conversation with Pamela Hawley  –  By Peter Shi T’16

Peter: Tell us about how your role models have shaped you to become the person who you are today.

Pamela: I was raised in sunny Menlo Park in a loving family. My mother encouraged me to help people just by the way she lived. She is always a great listener with great insights.  This has been an amazing model for me throughout my life. My father is one of the most amazing, ethical businessmen and most joyful people that I know; he has always been present in my life and an amazing force for good.  When I wanted to volunteer, they both jumped on it and fully supported me. Continue reading

Think Out of the Money Box, and into the Meaning Box

Beyond Money and Into Meaning

We’ve lost more than 2 million jobs in the past three months.  Companies are not only shutting down budgets but even shutting down themselves. So instead of jumping right back into the job market, why not take some time to think more about your life?
In many ways, it’s actually a wonderful position to be in: To reassess what you value, what you care most about in life and how you can best contribute. Begin by asking yourself questions:  ”What do I really love to do? What would I feel good about doing?  What would make me jump out of bed in the morning?”
Make yourself think out of the box — beyond the “Money Box” — and into the “Meaning Box.”  This is a box you deserve to be in!
One of the pathways to help you get there is to volunteer in the nonprofit community.  Start lliving your life with intention.   Remember, this is not just about getting another job. This is about respecting yourself and holding in high esteem your valuable skills and talents.  Volunteering can help you learn more about yourself, feel good about contributing, and lead to more meaningful work in the future. 
As you feel better and more confident and ‘more in love’ with what you do everyday, it cascades into other areas of your life. You positively benefit your significant other by speaking positively about your meaningful work. You are a role model and positive example for your kids, nieces and nephews. You can inspire others who feel trapped – to take a step into something that is inspiring.  You are here for a reason, and now is the time to start living that purpose.
Below are the pros for volunteers and for NGOs. Enjoy your unique journey!
Positives for New Volunteers

1- Keep Your Morale.  Losing a job is tough; looking for a job is tough. Serving and helping is a soothing balm to someone reeling from an unexpected and quick job cut. Volunteering helps you feel part of a team, and that you are an important contributing member.

 2- Be A Part of Something Greater.  Often new volunteers find that the “product” — serving homeless people, helping microentrepreneurs, tutoring young mothers on their GEDs, is so meaningful that it’s hard to return to the corporate world. They feel a part of something greater, because it so definitively clear how they are helping.  We all want to feel we are caring for and helping others, and part of a movement larger than ourselves.
3-  Keep Your Skills Current.  Use your current skills and ‘exercise’ them just as you would any muscle.   Are you an attorney, administrative assistant, construction worker, public relations expert, manager?   Put those needed skills to use, and expand them as you continue your work.  Since you are not under the guise of a strict corporate manager, you will have more freedom to expand them in creative ways.
4-  Attain New Skills and a Second Career.  Once you have invested some time at the organization, ask to work in different areas or work on different business units. Express your desire to grow and adopt news skills.  Try different areas in order to understand how the entire organization works.  Learn for yourself, and learn to become valuable to the organization. You will reenter the workforce with more confidence and experience.  You may also start a new career!

 5- Work on a Hobby. Do you love writing on the side?  Perhaps you offer to write or contribute to their newsletter.  Are you a hidden tech geek?  Revamp their website. Is blogging your passion? Help them set up a blog and create a stronger brand presence. Explode a latent desire of your own to help others!

6- Gain New Employment.  Volunteers can often be hired.  It’s a great entryway to show that you care and demonstrate your skills.  Take your time.  Do you respect the management? Do you believe in the vision? Are you passionate about your specific role? Continue to demonstrate your value and positions may open up, either for part-time or full-time work.  Be open and flexible. Maybe this is your chance to freelance!

Positives for the Nonprofit

1- Positive Morale.  Every organization needs new people with energy and positive attitudes joining the team. Having new team members excited to give and be a part of your mission boosts morale and keeps the positive energy flowing.

2- New Resources.  New volunteers have skills, ideas, energy that can be put to work as an essential part of your team.  Discern where you have gaps in management, specific skillsets needed, support functions. Areas include fundraising, sending donor letters, website updates, newsletter writing, counseling, tutoring, building homes, customer relationship management, database updating, executive support… the list goes on!  Post for volunteer positions accordingly and specifically.  Create a position of value that allows these newly inspired volunteers to invest their talent and hard work ethic to help achieve your goals.

Please notice I say New but not Free.  Volunteers require management, because people can and should be guided to do their best on behalf of the organization. At the same time, ensure you are serving not only your organization’s needs, but also the desire for growth within the individual volunteer.   Meet your goals and their goals.

3 -New Team Member.  It’s often a natural process that a volunteer becomes ‘embedded’ in the team, and room can be made for him or her.  A new job can be opened or existing one filled.  The position can be an internship; paid internship; consulting role; part-time employment; full-time employment.  For the nonprofit, it’s great to have worked with the individual prior to making any official commitment. It’s much clearer how successful the new hire and fit will be.

The world of volunteering can and will open up a new world for you. For both parties, make sure that it’s a good fit.  A volunteer job description should provide clear expectations.  Everyone should appreciate the skillset of the volunteer; the culture of the organization; and, critically important, simply working together.   In many ways, this is like any other job — needing an inspiring vision, good management and clear goals.

Welcome to the world of volunteering.  Start giving of yourself.
Begin thinking out of the Money Box and into the Meaning Box!

Be inspired,


To Be of Service, from Spirituality.com

I remember peering down a cul-de-sac filled with begging children, unwashed, hungry, disabled. I was 12 and on a family vacation to Mexico. But I just could not accept this view of life.

In our home, my mom had always emphasized the power and presence of God as divine Love governing our lives. As a young girl on that street in Mexico, I felt it was only right that everyone should feel this presence of divine Love.

That scene has driven me ever since. I started volunteering—in soup kitchens, with welfare patients, crisis counseling in the United States. Since then, I’ve volunteered all over the world from microfinance in India to sustainable farming in Guatemala. From this, I realized a need to get money and volunteers to the best, most qualified organizations. So in 2002 I launched UniversalGiving (www.universalgiving.org), which helps people give and volunteer with the top-performing projects and volunteer opportunities across the world. The website is a way for people to get involved that is both trusted and meaningful. To me, volunteering is the opportunity to love others and to be of service. It isn’t just about giving food in a soup kitchen; it’s about spending the greatest gift you have—your time and yourself.

Philanthropy now seems to be more about money or donations. But the real root of philanthropy means “love of people.” I’ve found that the people we serve, wherever we volunteer, appreciate that you care to spend time with them, listen to them, and help their community. Beyond giving material goods, our visit to these people made them feel cared about and loved.

I was in El Salvador during the earthquake crisis about six years ago, and another person and I were taking deliveries of food, clothing, and bedding up to remote parts of the mountains. These villages were so removed that even the UN’s World Food Program wouldn’t go there.

When we arrived, volcanic fluid was flowing into the rivers, and the church steeple and ceiling had fallen down. It was raining, and some homes were caving in. This was a very tough situation. But I could also feel God’s presence. People were so appreciative that someone had found them. Someone cared to visit, to provide care, and to make the effort to help. That was a very moving experience because beyond giving material goods, our visit to these people made them feel cared about and loved. This was an answer to my original motivation to see how everyone is cared for by divine Love.

But that trip was definitely a two-way blessing. I was so struck by their generosity and selflessness—and I never felt like an outsider. They were living on perhaps five cents to a dollar a day. But when one family learned that I loved mangoes, they offered me a big bag of fruit that they could have sold. At the time, my Spanish wasn’t that good, but I tried to thank them with my smiles and positive thanks. I took some of the mangoes, as I felt it was right to accept the gift, but the true gift was this sense of warmth and love, of connection, shared among us. We were both caring and blessing one another.

There are so many ways to give.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that we’re all equal ideas of God with equal access to His qualities. God loves and cares for all His/Her children. A wonderful 19th century thought leader, Mary Baker Eddy wrote that “ . . . one must acquaint himself with God, if he would be at peace. He must be ours practically, guiding our every thought and action;”

Of course it’s important that people have what they need. They need food, clothes, and jobs; they should be able to follow their dreams. But I like to base my prayers about this on the fact that good is accessible to everyone through God, rather than going first to the human need. When we start from God’s love for everyone, then we can listen for where or how God wants us to help.

There are so many ways to give. It might be volunteering to help ensure a safe water supply in Tanzania, helping preserve part of the Amazon River, smiling at a homeless person, or patiently helping an elderly person across the street. Whatever it is, it’s evidence of Love caring for all.

Pamela Hawley is the founder and CEO of UniversalGiving in San Francisco, California. A global volunteer herself, the organization she founded has, to date, provided more than $1.5 million and 10,000 volunteers in more than 40 countries around the world. You can see more on spiritual topics at http://www.spirituality.com.