Emily von Allmen worked for years with children.
“I had been a preschool director, a play therapist, a parenting teacher, a classroom teacher. But when I was looking for something to do that would use my skills and make a difference, I found that at ProKids.
“Every child I meet teaches me different things. I met Alex when he was 18 months old. He didn’t cry and never expressed his feelings. He just banged his head into the wall.
“His mom was mentally ill but we worked hard to help him have a stable home, even though it took three moves. We made sure he got into therapeutic preschool and were thrilled to see him become calmer.
“I cherish the role we have as CASA Volunteers. We can put all the pieces together and help children like Alex have happier lives.
“When I met Elena, she was 8. Her parents had abused drugs and were accused of child abuse. She’d been in and out of foster care. On paper, she looked like a terror.
“Elena would act out, throwing things and threatening to kill herself. She needed lots of help after she was removed from her family.
“She went to a treatment facility in Youngstown. I was her only visitor. That’s when I first realized how important a CASA Volunteer can be to a child.
“She was a little girl who didn’t have anyone who loved her. She couldn’t be with her brothers safely. She couldn’t move to a foster home.
“When I visited her, I brought her a suitcase for her things. I took out some crayons and paper. As she drew, she looked up at me: ‘Why haven’t people come?’
“She knew that she was alone. Abandoned.
“I promised her I would be there for her.
“Another family showed me how important it is for someone to just be there. There are not a lot of constant people in these children’s lives; a CASA Volunteer can do that. In this case, the children had been moved around a lot. They were scared. I told them that a CASA Volunteer is ‘the person who keeps track of you. If you move, I will visit you wherever you are.’
“And so one time when I walked into one of the three locations that four children had been divided into, one of the children looked at me and exclaimed, ‘You found me!’
“I cherish the role we have as CASA Volunteers. We are the ones who can understand the children and what they are going through. We are the ones who can be the voice of the child because we know the child and we know what their life can be like.
“We can really make a difference.”
Why did you become a CASA Volunteer?
I was looking for a volunteer opportunity where I could use my skills, make a difference and have some independence. I didn’t want to just do someone else’s “to-do” list. The flexibility of being a ProKids CASA Volunteer allows me to volunteer with several other organizations in the community and allow time for my family.
What have you learned a CASA Volunteer can do that no one else can do?
A CASA Volunteer is focused on the child and is their advocate. In my work as a CASA Volunteer, I have had the privilege of helping 19 children so far.
What surprises you about being a CASA Volunteer?
How well we are respected by ProKids and the court. The data I compile about the child’s needs does not go unnoticed. No matter what challenges I may face in my life, they are nothing compared to what a child may be experiencing.
We share stories of our children so that our community can understand why ProKids depends on a mobilized community. We change the names of the children, and use stock photos out of respect for their dignity and privacy. The stories themselves, however, are true.