Welcome to the second installment of our 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.
February Advocate Spotlight: Hillary Thagard, Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Mentor & Volunteer
Years of service with Child Advocates of Silicon Valley: 4+
Number of children served: 7 total
Number of CASA Volunteers mentored: 5
Hillary Thagard is a foodie, a CASA Volunteer and Mentor, a Libra who may have a fear of dogs (jury is still out on this one), but most importantly, she’s someone who has an unlimited amount of love for her community. Born and raised in Palo Alto, Hillary currently holds a position with Santa Clara County’s Social Services Agency as an Employment Counselor, specializing in increasing housing stability for families.
Hillary’s desire to give back to her community started back in the 90’s. While commuting to work, she would hear frequent advertisements on the radio from Child Advocates of Silicon Valley about becoming an advocate for foster youth. The more she heard the advertisements, the more she became interested in wanting to give back to the community by helping children in some way. However, her schedule at the time was not flexible enough to allow her to become a CASA Volunteer.
Fast forward to 2018, while transitioning to a new career path, Hillary saw a LinkedIn article that said, “If you’re interested in changing careers, one great thing to do is to volunteer because that can open up different opportunities.”
After reading that article, her first thought was to check online if Child Advocates was still around, and surely enough their CASA Program was active and thriving. In a matter of 3 to 4 weeks, she went through the info session and interview process and started her advocacy journey as a CASA Volunteer. With more time on her hands, her schedule being more flexible, and the ability to attend all the training classes, everything just aligned perfectly for her.
“It just all came together very quickly in becoming a CASA.” – Hillary Thagard
Naturally, Hillary was nervous when starting her CASA Volunteer journey as she did not have a lot of prior experiences interacting with children, and was worried about how her assigned foster child would respond to her. However, by maintaining a good routine, staying positive and consistently SHOWING UP, she has been able to be a Mentor, an Advocate, and Voice for the foster children she has served.
The first child she served was a great experience and has helped set the standard and model for how she approaches each new child she serves, by building a relationship with everyone involved and having the sole goal of supporting the child. Hillary emphasizes the importance of focusing on the child and working with the adults in their life to provide nurturing support and enhance the child’s development.
Throughout her advocacy journey, Hillary has learned that there is always room to improve for the betterment of the child, whether it is communication skills or patience. Being your authentic true self is also important as she believes children of any age can recognize that authenticity and can thus form a trust bond with you. As a CASA Mentor, Hillary recommends to all CASA Volunteers to have the courage and bravery to reach out to the social worker, the resource family, the bio parents, and even the child’s teachers, and to always remember to think about what is best for the child. It is important to form a bond with the social worker because they have the full picture of the situation. Always trust your instincts and reach out if you are not sure about something in regards to the case.
“You have to speak up and be confident in what you are experiencing and witnessing.” – Hillary Thagard
Her advice for anyone who wants to become a CASA Volunteer is to just do it! It is such a rewarding experience that allows you to have a meaningful impact with a foster child, their family, and on the child’s future. And for current CASA Volunteers, she encourages them to be there for foster youth who are placed outside of Santa Clara County. Any CASA Volunteer can make it work and establish a relationship with a foster youth that is not within the county.
“Be open to the ideas of stretching out those boundaries even just a little bit when choosing a case, whether they are placed in or out of Santa Clara County. Child Advocates will give you the tools and support you need to become a great CASA Volunteer.” – Hillary Thagard
Fun Facts About Hillary
Current TV Show To Watch: This Is Us! She is sad that this is their last season, but highly recommends it to everyone, especially because the show emphasizes a great story about a child being adopted through foster care.
MUST Watch Movie: Black Panther. An action movie with a storyline that celebrates black people and black culture in a way not seen or done before.
Most Listened To Album: Songs in the Key of Light by Stevie Wonder. It is an album that she can listen to morning, noon and night. The album is still relevant to this day as it talks about the economic inequalities, but also about love and life.
Favorite Food/Dish: Hillary is a lover of all foods, but the one food that she just cannot live without is PIZZA. Her favorite pizza topping is pepperoni, and she recommends Vesta, in Redwood City, a must go to pizza place.
Favorite Places To Visit: She’s been to Paris once but cannot wait to go back. It was one of the best liberating and empowering experiences she’s had while traveling abroad. The Grand Canyon and Washington DC are also places one must visit. The Grand Canyon is one of the best feats of nature and Washington DC has so much history and incredible museums. (Pictured on the right is Hillary at the Grand Canyon!)
Best Advice She’s Ever Received: “Just do your best. It doesn’t have to be perfect or be the outcome you want, but to always be proud of doing your best”. – Her parents