As a retired elementary school teacher and an active grandmother, advocating for children comes naturally for Mary Beth Lennox. She is currently working on her first case and has been a CASA volunteer since January of 2014.
Who is Mary Beth Lennox?
While chatting over coffee, it was clear to see what makes Mary Beth makes a great CASA volunteer. She has a warm smile and a welcoming presence. She is a thoughtful listener and when she talks about advocating for her CASA kids, there is a deep fire burning behind her eyes.
After 28 years of teaching, 21 of which was spent at Clear Lake Elementary School in the Bethel School District, Mary Beth decided to explore volunteering with CASA of Lane County. For years, she had been interested in volunteering for CASA but was concerned about the time commitment, so she timed her retirement so that she was able to attend CASA University training in September, the beginning of the new school year. She says, “The timing is perfect for teachers transitioning into retirement.”
How does Mary Beth find time to volunteer?
Because she is retired, creating a work/life balance isn’t a struggle for Mary Beth. She typically spends 5 – 6 hours/month on her case but that can vary depending upon whether there’s a court report due. In addition to volunteering for CASA, Mary Beth is very involved with her grandchildren. She provides respite care for one grandchild and is currently teaching the other how to drive. She also volunteers at the local elementary school and enjoys a variety of hobbies including quilting, biking, camping, reading and hanging out with her dog.
What does Mary Beth enjoy most about being a volunteer?
The most rewarding and fun part of being a CASA is spending time with the kids and making a difference. Mary Beth shared how her experience as a teacher helped the youngest kid on her case. When she first got the case, the youngest child was struggling in school. Because Mary Beth specialized in helping kids who struggled with reading, she knew her CASA kid was not near the appropriate grade level when they read together. In April, Mary Beth worked with the child’s mother on an academic evaluation. Typically, a request made so late in the school year would get rolled over into the following school year. Mary Beth knew that if they didn’t get her CASA kid tested immediately, it could cause her to struggle even more the following year. Because of Mary Beth’s persistent advocacy and working with the child’s mother, the child was able to qualify for an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) that would help support her success in both reading and math.
Since this case came to CASA, important parties in the case have changed but Mary Beth has been a consistent person in the lives of these kids. At one point, a new caseworker had only had the case for a week before they had to go to court, and Mary Beth was one of the only people who had the full picture about the foster kids on her case.
What fears or concerns did Mary Beth have before becoming a volunteer?
Mary Beth’s biggest fear was going to court and talking in front of the judge. Having no experience in law or the court system made her nervous that she wasn’t qualified to represent the child in court. But her fears subsided while she was in training at CASA University. She was assured that everyone is scared and nervous about being a CASA volunteer, and for those of us with no court experience, it can be even scarier. She says, “It helps to sit in on hearings and get exposed to the process.”
What advice does Mary Beth have for interested volunteers?
Mary Beth suggests you go through the interview process and see if you’re a good fit. The intensity of the training was affirming that you are getting all of the information you need to be a strong advocate for kids in foster care.