Hi Jessica. We appreciate your willingness to share your story. Can you please start by sharing your experience as a foster youth?
Yeah, when I was nine, my mom was arrested for being under the influence of drugs. The police officers took my mom in one car and me and my four siblings in another. We were all taken to a children’s shelter. Upon arrival, we were split up by age and then sent to separate foster homes. During my life as a foster youth, I moved 13 times, attended over 23 different schools and survived abuse. I, and my siblings, remained in the system until we aged out.
Thank you for sharing, we can only imagine how challenging that time was for you and your siblings. At what point did you first encounter Child Advocates?
When I was 16, I became a teen parent and received a letter from Child Advocates telling me I had a CASA Volunteer, Ma. After ignoring the letter, I received a phone call from Ma where she introduced herself, her role and asked me if I was willing to let her be my Advocate. I had no interest in another professional in my life that I had to meet with so I declined.
But Ma wouldn’t take no for an answer. I eventually agreed to have lunch with her and we hit it off. Unlike most professionals during a visit, she wasn’t checking her watch. Ma genuinely cared.
CASA Volunteers are persistent, that’s what makes them such great Advocates. Once you accepted Ma as your CASA, what kind of support did you receive from her?
One of the things I wanted to do for myself was graduate high school and Ma made sure I succeeded. From giving me rides to school, providing resources and tons of tutoring support with my homework, When the big day finally came, she helped me prepare my graduation speech and sat proudly in the audience with my two children, boyfriend and other support team members. It was a very unforgettable moment.
After graduating, Ma recommended I apply to be a Teen Mom Mentor for other youth serviced by Child Advocates of Silicon Valley. We went through the job application process together and even did mock interviews. After I received the job, we went shopping for work clothes. I was excited and couldn’t wait to get dressed up and ready for work. I always imagined being able to put on nylons.
That’s awesome. It sounds as though Ma was a really great influence. In what other ways did Ma impact your life?
Ma made me aware of, and prepped me, for the real world. She taught me basic life skills like etiquette, parenting and exploring new places and new things. She even taught me how to drive. I still remember her holding on tight to the bar on the passenger side of the seat, but I knew what I was doing.
Although at times I didn’t want to hear it, throughout the years, Ma taught me patience, love and kindness. She’s a grandma to my children. Ma has often told me that I have taught her more than she could ever teach me.
Again, Jessica, thank you for sharing your story with our readers. Any last words?
After 23 years of employment with Child Advocates, I firmly believe in our mission. I understand firsthand the impact of having a caring adult support you through a difficult time. Currently, as the lead of our Reproductive Health/ Teen Parent program area, I support our CASAs to build a connection with our youth and create a safe space to discuss reproductive health. As a teen parent, Ma helped me connect to resources. My goal is to ensure that every youth receives the same support I had and knows that there are services and resources for them where they can feel safe.
As a CASA Specialist, Jessica Alvarez supervises 25 CASA Volunteers, 7 CASA mentors and has been trained to lead our Reproductive Health/Teen Parent program area. As a former foster youth who had a CASA Volunteer while navigating the system, Jessica understands first hand and believes in the impact of a CASA.
Disclaimer: The Q&A is featured in our 2021 winter issue of LIFT UP The Child Advocates of Silicon Valley Magazine and is based on Jessica Alvarez’s experience.