AUSTIN (KXAN) — When Michaela Upchurch lost her job last year, she figured she would turn a negative into a positive and sought out volunteer opportunities where she felt she could make a difference.
“I wanted to make a bigger impact,” Upchurch said.
She discovered CASA, or Court Appointed Special Advocates, of Travis County, an organization that helps abused or neglected children. Over the last year, the organization has experienced a dip in volunteers. Those with CASA say the uncertainty of the pandemic could be one reason some people may not want to commit, but Laura Wolf, CASA’s CEO, says the need remains.
“The power of one person who believes in you when you’re a kid is profound, that’s super awesome, but it is especially true for the kids that CASA serves,” Wolf said.
The volunteers are trained and supported to become court-appointed child advocates. Upchurch admits, when she first read about the role, she felt a little overwhelmed.
“Like, ‘Oh my gosh, court and judges, and child protective services’ – it felt a little out of my league,” she said. The idea of becoming an advocate for a child and speaking up for them in court, at school and in the community is not something Upchurch ever imagined she would be doing, but that’s exactly what she’s been doing for the last six months.
“It takes someone who is creative and out-of-the-box thinking and looking very kind of solutions-focused. It takes some tenacity because there are times when you’re not able to get folks on the phone or able to get an answer so you gotta work a little bit to get what you need,” she explained, in hopes of encouraging others to join.
Locally, CASA of Travis County serves around 70% of the total number of children in the system.
“Kids need you, that’s what I can say now, kids need you,” Wolf said.
For at least one of those children, Upchurch is able to be a supportive, guiding and positive influence.
“It’s really rewarding,” Upchurch said. “It’s good to go in with no biases, no judgments, you don’t know what type of situation you’re getting into.”