Stephanie Shriner CASA 800x485

From Retirement to Advocacy: How CASA and Theta Transformed My Life

Category: Fraternity

Stephanie Schriner

Gamma Nu, North Dakota State

During my years as a working parent, I (foolishly) did not participate in my local alumnae group. But when I decided to retire and move to the south, joining the NW Arkansas Alumnae Chapter was the first thing I sought out to do.

The very first alumnae chapter event that I attended was Christmas for CASA, and I was asked to bring items for young adults exiting the foster care system such as bedding, college dorm items, and tools for kitchen and bath. I chastised myself for not really thinking of the children in foster care actually leaving while still in care. How naive was I that I thought cases were solved before children aged out? So I over-purchased at Target and came to the meeting with a lot of excitement.

Christmas for CASA, 2023

The guest speaker was a woman named Colleen Smith who talked about how our purchases supported young adults exiting foster care and either going to college or moving into apartments on their own with limited financial support or adults to provide these items. I thought immediately about the size of the van my children were able to utilize to move into their dorms and apartments. My heart went out to these older children in care and I went to the CASA of Northwest Arkansas office the very next day to volunteer.

As an advocate for children in foster care, my job is to be present in all meetings on behalf of the child in care. They have a lawyer, their parents have lawyers, there are many case workers and social workers; all of these individuals are working on behalf of the family. But my job is to be the voice of the child, a minor who often does not know what to say in a room filled with adults. I have been an advocate for infants who cannot speak and an advocate for a 16-year-old who knows exactly what they want to say and just needs practice in saying it.

I am a relationship builder. There is nothing I enjoy more than spending time with others and getting to know their story. When the story is filled with challenges, heartbreak, harm, but also love, care, and worry, my role is to be the steadying voice in the storm. I help parents who have had their children removed find the strength and systems that help them follow their plan to reunify with their child. I held the hand of an 11-year-old boy when his mother signed away her rights to him as he stood silently. I celebrated with that same young man a year later as adoption papers were officiated in a court that was five hours from his home. I watched joyfully as an entire basketball team filed into the courtroom to watch him, their teammate, get adopted. (What a great opportunity for young people to witness!)

A person with any background or experience can be a CASA. Our ability to love and care for others supersedes all else as we work with the families to overcome addiction, learn parenting methods, and secure housing and jobs. I found myself grateful for the opportunity to pass onto another person what my life experiences have brought me. And, if that couldn’t happen for the parent and the child, then I was there to help acclimate those children to adoptive homes where they found love and support.

Our alumnae chapter has a very close relationship with our local CASA office. In 2020, our executive director was named Kappa Alpha Theta Program Director of the Year by the National CASA/GAL Association for Children. Our chapter members help with everything from stuffing envelopes to setting up the major annual fundraiser, Light of Hope, each year. My relationship with Theta and CASA has truly changed my life in bringing amazing friendships, close relationships with children and adults, and more.

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