This month, we’re proud to spotlight Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Volunteer Jim Niederjohn for his dedication to SHOWING UP for foster youth. Learn how he approaches his responsibilities as a CASA and the way he adapted to a challenging shift in his role soon after receiving his first case.
CASA Volunteer: Jim Niederjohn (Nee-der-jawn), he/him/his
Years of Service with Child Advocates of Silicon Valley: 2 years
Number of Children Served: 1
STARTING A NEW CHAPTER
As the end of 2021 neared, Jim found himself semi-retired and ready for his next venture. He’d spent 25 years in the medical device industry, and now, he wanted to use the time he’d gained to give back.
“I love coaching and really enjoy working with kids, helping them and teaching them,” he says. “Since I had more time, I decided to look for a volunteer opportunity.”
For Jim, recognizing his privilege was a driving factor as he considered his next move.
“I know that I had opportunities growing up that so many other kids don’t,” he explains. “I wanted to give back—I wanted to try to be a positive influence that could help.”
Jim completed pre-service training and was surprised by what happened next: although he initially envisioned working with a younger child, the case that truly spoke to him was Raymond’s*, a teenage male requesting an active CASA who could demonstrate patience and help him realize he was a worthy and capable individual.
“He was living in the town where I grew up, and there was this connection,” Jim recalls. “Something kind of pulled me to him.”
SHIFTING TO DUAL-INVOLVEMENT
The beginning had its challenges. As Jim predicted, Raymond wasn’t keen to connect, and Jim had his work cut out for him.
“Honestly, the first three or four months weren’t easy—and it’s understandable,” Jim shares. “He didn’t know me, he didn’t trust me and it took time for him to open up, to feel more comfortable around me.”
Six months in, however, everything changed. Jim received news that following a serious incident, Raymond had been detained in Juvenile Hall. This turn of events meant Jim was now serving a dually involved youth (DIY), a youth involved in both the Juvenile Justice and Juvenile Dependency Court Systems. Despite these developments, Jim’s commitment to Raymond and his case never wavered. He credits his ability to adapt to the unexpected, in large part, to the thoroughness of Child Advocates’ pre-service training.
“There was never a time when I thought, ‘I’m not sure I want to do this.’” he says. “If anything, I thought, ‘This is just another challenge—let’s deal with it.’ [Raymond] needs more help from me now, more support, so there were never any negative thoughts about the situation. I’m there for him.”
From the beginning, Jim approached the relationship free of expectations. He let go of any preconceived notions about the experience and what it was supposed to look like. Instead, he leaned into being receptive, allowing Raymond to lead how their connection developed over time. Because of this, their bond actually strengthened while Raymond was in Juvenile Hall, even in the face of increased restrictions and unforeseen difficulties.
“My approach has been not to get into the details of some of the legal problems he’s facing,” Jim shares. “I always encourage him to make good choices and let him know that a lot of people care about him and are worried about him. I stay positive and make sure we have a good time, in light of other challenges in his life. His social worker changed, his living situation changed. But I was one of the few people that was constant and stayed with him.”
Over the last several months, Jim has continued to visit with Raymond as often and as consistently as possible. Although he’s unable to bring activities to Juvenile Hall, the two often play basketball outside and talk about how Raymond is progressing in school. Raymond previously struggled academically, but this current arrangement has ensured that he prioritizes his studies, helping him work toward getting back on track. Jim attends both Dependency and Justice Court hearings, continuing to actively advocate for Raymond and his needs, and he maintains hope that Raymond will successfully graduate from high school and land on a better path.
“I’m not his dad—I’m not trying to be his dad,” he explains. “But I am someone who’s consistent and who wants to help. That’s how I want him to see me: someone who’s always there for him, who supports him with any challenges going on in his life.”
What’s held true for Jim throughout his journey as a CASA is his belief that everything comes back to the child. He truly believes that with some guidance and access to the tools to succeed, Raymond can find a way to thrive, especially given the tenacity he’s shown in other areas of his life.
“It’s all about him, it’s not about me,” Jim says. “I’ve watched him at the skateboard park, and I can tell that he’s put hundreds of hours into this hobby of his. I’ve observed him, knowing this is something he’s passionate about and has worked hard at. He’s a kid who’s had it pretty tough for most of his life so seeing that he’s found something he’s passionate about, has worked hard at, and as a result is very good at—something where he really excels—I just admire it.”
Jim is humble, hesitant to acknowledge what a significant impact he’s had on Raymond’s life. He doesn’t feel it’s his place to draw such conclusions, but it’s clear to us that his consistent presence and dedication have made all the difference. Every foster youth deserves a CASA like Jim—someone who will continue to lift them up, even when it feels like everyone else has given up.
*An alias was used to protect the identity of the youth.
TV Show Recommendation(s): “Survivor”
Book Recommendation(s): Jack Reacher series
Favorite Podcast: “SmartLess”
Favorite Type of Food: Mexican
Favorite Place: Hawaii
Favorite Hobbies: Playing the piano and running—Jim qualified for the Boston Marathon in April!
Support Foster Youth Today
Here are just a few of the ways you can SHOW UP for foster youth this month:
- Join our winter pre-service training cohort, beginning February 20, 2024. Attend an informational session to learn more about becoming a CASA Volunteer.
- Support our CASA Program and invest in our foster youth with a financial contribution. You can also check with your company to see if they match employee donations.