Welcome to the first installment of our new monthly spotlight series, where we introduce you to one of our many Advocates – regular, everyday people doing remarkable work with foster children and youth – so you can get to know them beyond their advocacy.
January Advocate Spotlight: Susan Lato, Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Mentor & Volunteer
Years of service with Child Advocates of Silicon Valley: 7+
Number of children served: 3 as a CASA Volunteer; 7 as a CASA Mentor
Number of CASA Volunteers mentored: 5
Susan originally hails from the state of Wisconsin, took a detour through New York and Indiana, before landing in California, where she currently resides with her husband and her adorable cats, Spock (pictured above) and Mr. Darcy. Although she is from the Midwest, Susan says she’s really a Californian at heart.
Susan, along with her husband, moved to the Bay Area during Y2K as a biochemist, but knew that managing projects and working with people was where her true talents lay. She’s always loved organizing events and family get-togethers, and finds that volunteering is a great way to utilize her project management and people skills. Completely unrelated but just as important, she also loves re-watching Lord of The Rings, #TeamGandolfTheWhite.
Susan first heard of Child Advocates through an ad in the newspaper. With some extra time on her hands, she wanted to volunteer and be a part of a community that helps kids grow. Our CASA Program’s mission and the required time commitment were a perfect fit for what she was looking for. Although most people think the commitment is daunting, she says it’s completely doable and easier than you might think.
“It’s not a tough burden, and you can go have fun outings with the kids. To me, that was not too hard of a sell.” – Susan Lato
In 2015, Susan became a CASA Volunteer, and received her first case. During her CASA Training with Dependency Court Judge Schwarz, she was inspired to help foster teens as they needed the most patience, and felt that this particular age group was in need of someone to understand and be there for them. Susan wanted to be that someone. Having advocated for 3 teens, she feels that all a foster teen really wants is someone who is willing to listen to them and to be there for them, and that is exactly what Susan has done.
“The rewards are huge and worth it, but it does take time for it to manifest.” – Susan Lato
Susan emphasizes that patience is key when advocating for a foster teen, and letting go of your expectations for them. You really have to meet them where they are, understand what their needs and hopes are and then try your best to help them fulfill them. Being a great listener is pivotal in this process.
Every child wants to be seen, someone to pay attention to their needs, and to be there for them, and that is something Susan can proudly say she has done for each teen she has mentored for thus far.
Susan not only enjoys being a mentor for foster youth, but for CASA Volunteers as well. As a CASA Mentor, she encourages CASA Volunteers to just SHOW UP. It’s the easiest thing to do but can also be the most impactful. By showing up you build trust and from there you can really learn how best to help your youth. And when advocacy gets difficult or challenging, Susan knows she, and her CASA Volunteers, can turn to Child Advocates staff to receive the support they need to advocate effectively.
“There are a lot of recent studies on ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences), which state that all foster youth have higher ACEs scores than the average population. These studies also state that to help counteract ACEs, a foster youth should have at least one non-family trusted adult in their life, and that is exactly what Child Advocates provides. Having a CASA Volunteer, even for just a short time goes such a long way in helping them.” – Susan Lato
Fun Facts About Susan
TV show she’s binge watching: The Witcher and just finished Hawkeye. She highly recommends watching Hawkeye, as it is straightforward and greatly edited. Also a great Christmas show, just like Die Hard is a great Christmas movie.
Book she just finished reading: On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed.
Best advice she has ever received: If it takes less than 5 minutes, just do it. It’s difficult but even if you do it half the time, it makes your life so much easier.
Her favorite hobby: Jigsaw puzzles. She is extremely proud of her 13,000 piece Sistine Chapel ceiling puzzle (pictured below), which took her a year to complete. It is 6 feet long by 3 feet wide. It was a challenging puzzle that she loved completing.
Disclaimer: This Advocate Spotlight is based on Susan Lato’s experience as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Volunteer and Mentor.