Hero Highlight: Paul Berger
My name is Paul Berger and I have been a CASA Volunteer since May 2017. My wife of 29 years and I and have raised four children, including one adopted from Odessa, Ukraine. I’ve spent my career advertising and presently work as an Account Director with OBI Creative, a marketing research and advertising firm in Omaha.
Tell me how you first got involved in with CASA . . .
Corrie Kielty, Executive Director of the Nebraska CASA Association, engaged OBI Creative to create a public marketing campaign to recruit future CASA volunteers. The campaign was funded by donations and I was assigned to lead the project. I had not heard of CASA before the campaign and had no idea what CASA was about. As I worked with Corrie, I began to understand the need for CASA volunteers and was emotionally moved by the stories of children served by CASA. Privately, I entertained thoughts of becoming a CASA but, I didn’t act initially.
Tell me about someone who has influenced your decision to work with CASA?
I went to the CASA fundraising gala and it was there I heard the keynote testimony of a young woman (I’m sorry, I don’t recall the speaker’s name) who, as a child, got lost in the juvenile court system. Through deceit and half-truths, the girl’s mother manipulated the courts into committing her daughter to a behavioral detention center. This young child didn’t have a CASA to advocate on her behalf and to tell the court her side of the story. She was left frightened and confused. While her situation was eventually resolved, it was not before a lot of unnecessary pain and wasted time was inflicted upon her. Today, the young woman is a CASA volunteer so that she can help children avoid the pain and frustration that she had experienced. At that point, I was hooked on CASA and signed up for the next training session.
What do you find most challenging about the child welfare system?
In a word, turnover. A Family Permanency Specialists (FPS) has a tough job working on several cases at one time. It can also be emotionally taxing and some folks become burned out or find other ways to contribute to society. For example, my CASA child has had three FPS in one year. With this lack of continuity on the case, it’s easy to see how a child can fall between the cracks of the court system without anyone in their corner to advocate for their needs.
Why are you supporting CASA as opposed to other groups working on child welfare?
As a CASA, I am focused on a single case and I get to know that child, their needs, their fears, their strengths and most importantly what they want when it comes to permanency. I take this knowledge and advocate for the child through my report to the court. Judges value CASA reports as an objective source of information about the child’s case. I make recommendations to the court on behalf of a child based on my knowledge of the facts including the child’s needs and wishes. In short, the report brings the child to life for the Judge as they weigh their decision on permanency placement options.
How do you balance giving time to your CASA case with your job/family/life obligations?
Our children are grown and out of the house so, the time that I used to invest in volunteering or supporting my kid’s activities can now be invested in a cause like CASA. Also, my employer is a supporter of non-profit organizations and encourages employees to participate. This gives me the flexibility to attend court dates and other CASA related appointments during work hours.
The interest in CASA seems to be growing. Why do you think that is?
The best advertising is word of mouth. CASA volunteers and the families who have been helped by CASA, tell their friends and families about their positive experiences which naturally encourages others to volunteer. Also, strategically placed paid advertising (made possible by generous donors) makes the public aware of the continued need for CASA volunteers and has helped to increase volunteer registrations.
What would you tell someone who is thinking about donating or volunteering?
Do it! This is your opportunity to make a lasting impact in the life of a child. You will be well trained and well supported by CASA staff. You are never alone as you work on your case. Your CASA supervisor is always there for you. They even go with you on your first appointment and review your report before submitting it to the court.
What do you think will change about CASA over the next five years?
I’m certain there will be more CASA volunteers working in the child welfare system as the benefits of CASA is more broadly understood by the community. Also, CASA continues to evolve as a professional organization incorporating the best training opportunities with cloud-based tools to streamline communication, record keeping and reporting. I’m looking forward to seeing where we are in five years!