Dwayne Castronova is a busy video producer at PBS SOCAL’S KOCE-TV. But he also still finds time to be a dedicated CASA volunteer at CASA OC (Court Appointed Special Advocates, Orange County). A couple of times a month, Dwayne spends time with a youth in the foster care system, providing mentoring, support, advocacy and even a little fun. Read how Dwayne was trained as a CASA and how his work has impacted not only the young people he works with, but his life as well.
“I chose CASA OC because they’re on the frontlines working closely with children who need the most help. A lot of programs might not be as hands-on. You might not get the opportunity to be really involved in a child that needs mentoring and advocacy not just in the court system but within their personal life as well. So I thought that was very impressive and I thought it would be a great challenge. And I wanted to learn more about the program and the system as well. And CASA OC presented that to me.
“I’ve been involved in different ministries in my church so I’ve kinda been youth oriented. CASA OC kept popping up and presenting itself as something that I might be interested in. So my wife and I decided to go the orientation meeting/ introductory program and we both decided to go ahead through the 30 hours of training.
“They were really great about walking us through it and you’ll never be confused or on your own and they’ll answer all your questions. They’re there for you the whole way. The training is incredible and the staff is incredible. And if you have any type of question at any time there are more than happy to support you. (They) help you fill out court papers all the way through from beginning to end.
“During the training, they have various trainers that come in from different aspects that go on in CASA and outside agencies such as county social workers and child psychologists. It gave us a good in-depth to all the things that we need to be aware of to be successful mentors and advocates. There is a lot involved with a child that’s within the system and all the different aspects that they have to go through and deal with. So it’s an awareness program.
“I thought it was great going through the CASA training with my wife because we can talk about it and compare notes and say ‘Hey what did you get out of that training or speaker?’ and she’ll have a different viewpoint. It was really fantastic to be sworn in especially after all the training. It felt like a great accomplishment.
“I had a normal upbringing so to speak; no matter what I did or how I failed I always had a safety net–had someone there to catch me as I fell. And I see children within the system and every little step of the way they might make a little mistake and there is no safety net for them at all. Children move around a lot within the system and sometimes there may be a problem with truancy or they’re not comfortable in their foster home kind of thing. So they’re not given a second chance. They just get moved on to the next situation—such as the next foster group home. And I think you know overall that’s kind of a big hindrance to their development and their future.
“So far the biggest challenge is just being aware and being sensitive to the child and their needs and to not be judgmental and to just listen. And it’s not about you. It’s all about the child. It’s their needs and their concerns. Again it’s not about me so much as what comes out of it for the child. The other big challenge has been the workload. It’s almost a part time job—there are a lot of logs and you need to check up on grades and talking to teachers. But if you make it a priority, you can find the time.
As a male I can only be assigned to a male youth. My wife can be assigned to either female or male and you can choose an age range or you can choose not to have an age range. If you’re more open to whoever needs you, (you know, the most critical child is at the top of the list), you’ll probably be assigned to that child.
“I meet with my CASA kid a couple of times a month. He’s in middle school. It’s a progressive kind of thing, getting to know the kid. Sometimes there are all of these strangers in their lives. As we progress and spend more time together, we build a trust factor. I’m not there to scold him or judge him. I’m just there to provide a little escape, a break in the routine. This week I picked him up and we went to the movies.
“I see a lot more smiles on his face lately. I don’t know if I’m a direct cause but our relationship is getting a lot better. We can joke around. I’ve heard that sometimes it can take 6 months to a year for a kid to warm up if you get a kid who doesn’t trust adults.
“He enjoys athletics and sports so we’ll go play soccer and I’ll teach him some soccer skills. He likes to run track and play soccer. Maybe when he gets to high school he will start to think more academically but this is a great foundation for now.
“One time a few months ago he said, “If I get placed back in my home with my mom, can we still hang out?” I told him “Sure. It’s up to us if we want to keep getting together.” I’d want to come watch him play sports in high school and cheer him on. Too many people in society want to tear each other down. We want to build each other up.
“I’ve told friends on social media. The response has been overwhelming. A lot of people are impressed by the organization CASA OC and having people involved in that program that are on the frontlines helping kids and making that sacrifice and being there for someone who doesn’t have anybody else. I get a few pats on the back about that.
“I inspired my 84 year old uncle to volunteer at his church working with kids. Because of me and my wife, he felt inspired. He has a lot of knowledge and experience he can share.
“For anyone who’s thinking about getting involved in volunteering, I think CASA OC is just a great organization. It’s a big commitment but it’s a big, big reward in the end. It’s kind of surprising, maybe a few years ago I wouldn’t think that I would get through a program like this or be involved in such a dedicated type of advocacy group. But if I can help someone out, that’s what gives me the power and the energy and the focus to move forward.
“It’s very rewarding to make an impact on one person and at the same time, they’re making an impact on you. I could go home and sit on the couch or go spend time with a kid who doesn’t have a family. Giving back makes me feel like a more complete person.”