January 2024 Advocate Spotlight: Beth Bryan and Gretchen Harper
We invite you to meet Beth Bryan and Gretchen Harper, nominated by their Case Supervisor, Rosario Salinas. Beth and Gretchen work together as co-Advocates on a case.
“Beth and Gretchen are a dynamic team,” Rosario said. “They are currently assigned to a case with six children. They are fantastic communicators who are diligent about understanding the case and the needs of the children.”
We asked Beth and Gretchen to share their experiences as Advocates.
Is there anything unique about your background that contributes to your approach to advocacy?
Beth: I’ve been a stay-at-home mom to three kids for the last 18 years.
Gretchen: My degree is in social work, but I’ve worked in money and finance for 25 years. When I got back into social work a few years ago working with families that adopted children from the foster care system, I was introduced to CASA.
How did you become interested in volunteering as AN aDVOCATE?
Beth: On a mission trip with my church to Honduras, my best friend’s mom, Boni Ritter, introduced me to an organization called CASA where she served for 12 years and became president of the board of the CASA of the 16th Judicial District in Louisiana. At the time, I knew nothing about it, but she spoke with so much passion and love about her experience, I wanted to be a part of something as special and impactful as CASA. I came straight home and signed up for training.
Gretchen: I moved to Conroe two years ago from Colorado. I didn’t know anyone here but a connection of mine from TCU introduced me to [Interim Program Director] Marilyn McQueeney . . . who doesn’t love Marilyn, right?! Really, I just wanted to work with people like her!
Did you have any reservations about volunteering?
Beth: Absolutely. Do I have the time? Do I have what it takes to be what these children need? How am I qualified to know and decide what is in “the best interest” of someone else’s child? I quickly realized showing up was the most important piece, and the rest fell into place. I can’t say enough wonderful things about CASA’s training staff, curriculum, and ongoing support from supervisors. There has never been a time I didn’t have someone call or help guide me through the unknown.
Explain in your own words the work you do as a CASA aDVOCATE. Why is it essential for a child in foster care?
Beth: The Dr. Seuss quote rings true, “To the world, you may be one person, but to one person, you may be the world.” My job is to be the consistent presence for these children and advocate for them in all aspects of life—emotionally, medically, educationally, etc. In many cases, this may be the first time a child has experienced this type of support, and it’s so important for their development and a positive outcome for their future. Everyone needs “a person.”
What has surprised you most about your aDVOCACY work?
Beth: Besides working with the children, I was surprised to find my biggest joy is working with the parents and families toward reunification. Many times, there is so much love there, and these parents are doing their absolute best but fall short because of the many societal, cultural, and socio-economic barriers. I love that CASA teaches families the tools they need and helps provide resources to be successful.
What has been the most difficult aspect of being an advocate? Most Rewarding?
Beth: Most difficult is watching a parent struggle with substance abuse. Most rewarding is seeing a child reach permanency through reunification or adoption.
Will You Share about your experience working with a co-Advocate?
Beth: Amazing, awesome, and a blessing. Thank you CASA for bringing me a great friend!
Gretchen: I absolutely love working with my co-Advocate, Beth! We are an amazing team, and we make each other better working as a team.
How did you establish the division of responsibilities?
Beth: Gretchen and I operate with a “Do what you can, when you can” mentality. We try to do most of our visits together but are both happy to take charge when the other might not have the time and energy to give. We’ve also mastered and perfected the “tag, you’re it” approach, and it has worked for us from the start!
Gretchen: The division of responsibility came easily—it really has flowed well! Most of the time, Beth and I are able to do things together, but there are times when one of us can take on more. It works out naturally.
How do you communicate about the case?
Beth: We keep in constant contact by phone or text and always update each other after a visit or communication with third parties. We are also lucky to have formed a great relationship with the CPS caseworker on our case as well as the Attorney Ad Litem for the children. We all constantly work together for the family.
How does having a co-Advocate benefit the children and your advocacy for them?
Gretchen: Having a co-Advocate has been a huge benefit for us and the children. When there are six kids in a case, it is hard to give them all the attention they need when we do a visit. Having two of us helps with that! In addition, there are days when we connect differently to the kids—I might connect great with the older ones on one visit, then the younger ones on the next. Having two of us allows us to meet the needs of all six.
What are your best practices for working with a co-Advocate?
Beth: Respect for each other and the realization that we are both there for the same goal. It’s not about keeping score of who does what but about a positive outcome and result for the children involved.
Gretchen: Working as a team, in any Advocate position, is the recipe for success. Whether you are the sole Advocate on a case or a co-Advocate, work as a team with your Case Supervisor and other professionals. In our current case, Beth and I are part of a bigger team involving our Case Supervisor, Rosario Salinas, the caseworker, and the attorney ad litem. Together, we make a dream team! Advocacy is so much better when you are not going at it alone.
What would you like the community to know about children involved in the child welfare system?
Beth: They are the strongest and most resilient people you will ever meet, and they crave love and connection. Many of these children are survivors, and from an early age, they’ve had to fend for themselves. They may never have felt what consistent care feels like.
Gretchen: Children in care are kids. They are kids! They like to feel wanted and loved and special. They like to have fun. One thing I think of the most over my two years with CASA is all the laughter I’ve had the privilege of being a part of.
Is there a particular moment or memory that stands out for you?
Beth: Gretchen and I got to give our children bikes through our CASA Bike Guys program. It was a great day!
Gretchen: We were able to deliver bikes to all the kids in our case through the Bike Guys! It was so fun!
anything else you want to share about Child Advocates of Montgomery County?
Beth: With grace and understanding, you can choose to be what a child in care needs during a family crisis. You could be the one person that makes a difference in their future.