In juvenile court, there is a lot of talk about Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs. Children who have one or more ACEs are at a significantly higher risk for things ranging from chronic disease (diabetes and heart disease) to risky behavior (drugs, teen sex), and poor mental health. They are also likely to “carry on the family tradition” of abuse, neglect, and drug use. But research also suggests that the more resilience we help build into these kids, the less impact their ACEs have.
Often, people think that this requires lots of “services” (and it might) that “other people” or agencies have to provide. But this perspective lets all of us off the hook a bit too easy.
One of my favorite quotes is by Mother Theresa. She noted that she “could not do great things. She could only do small things with great love.” My Aunt Mickey was the master at doing small things with great love. While I was the recipient of her great love, the story I want to tell today is about her small things with great love towards someone else—someone I never met.
Because I never met him, I have to give him a made-up name. We’ll call him Sam. Sam was a teenager who lived down the hall in the same apartment building Aunt Mickey lived in. He lived with his mom and her boyfriend, but this “family” was not particularly stable. Not dysfunctional enough to involve DHS, but enough that this young man would benefit from a positive adult role model in his life.
Enter Aunt Mickey.
Aunt Mickey was the kind of person who knew her neighbors, and so she had spoken to Sam and his parents on several occasions. One day, she noticed Sam sitting in the hall outside his apartment. When she asked why he didn’t go in, he said his parents didn’t allow him to have a key and they weren’t home yet. She invited him in to her apartment and gave him a snack. And thus started an unlikely friendship.
But it went beyond giving him a place to hang out and a snack. She mentored Sam (though it’s highly unlikely it would have ever occurred to her to call it that). When he offered to change the oil in her car in the parking lot, she told him that her lease prohibited that. Sam suggested that no one would “care,” but Aunt Mickey was having none of it. She firmly told him that her lease said she could not do that, her signature was her word that she would not do that, and so she wasn’t going to do that. To do otherwise would have been wrong, regardless of whether anyone “cared” or not.
When she noticed him hanging out with the “wrong crowd,” she spoke up and suggested he might want to find better friends, because she knew that high school kids in particular make poorer decisions when their peers are urging them to do so.
In short, Aunt Mickey did the small things— offering snacks, a listening ear, and strong character modeling—with great love.
Is there a child for whom you could do this? A neighborhood kid that could use an encouraging word from you? Can you volunteer at a local school, even if it’s “just” reading to a child on a consistent basis?
Or if you want to step up into a more formal role, would you consider being a Court-Appointed Special Advocate (“CASA”)? Some things you might want to know are:
- CASAs receive great training (both in the beginning and ongoing)
- There are opportunities to get together with other CASAs
- You will have a coach once you complete their training.
- We only work with one family at a time; you can decide how many kids you want to work with, the age of the child(ren), and other factors.
- The judges love CASAs! We submit written reports to the court, but we rarely have to testify. In fact, I’ve never had a CASA be called to testify, and I’ve been working with this program for over 10 years.
- You do not have to have a background in law—just a passion for helping kids.
- In terms of the time requirements, we typically ask for 5-10 hours a month, which is a visit (maybe two), possibly reviewing documents, and writing a short report.
So what small thing will you do with great love? Will you consider making a difference in the life of a child?
Let me know if you want more information—no pressure. I just want to get you the information you need so you can make a good, fully informed decision. And even if CASA isn’t right for you, you can still encourage the little people (and the big people!) in your life.
Small Things With Great Love