An Interview with Brian and Melinda, by Alli Stephens, Marketing & Communications Director
Brian Mullen and Melinda Weathers would prefer you to think that they are not particularly more or less special than anyone else. They were somewhat hesitant to be highlighted by CASA, certain that there must be someone ‘more interesting’. As Brian and Melinda explained, “We’re not unique in that we have many time commitments since we both have full-time jobs and are raising three-year-old twin girls.”
In addition to their busy schedules, the couple chose to become volunteer CASA Advocates together in 2018. “We choose to work on the same cases together so that we are not overwhelmed,” says Brian, “and we can cover for each other at meetings, visits, hearings and trials, and combine our notes to produce court reports. It has worked really well for us.”
I emailed the couple the following list of questions (again, with their schedules and young family, it can be difficult to catch the two of them together at the same time for a phone call), and I appreciate both their time and their candid responses.
Can you tell me in your own words about what problem Advocates help to solve?
Advocates play a crucial role in developing relationships with abused and/or neglected children, and express their best interests in court. Not only are we developing relationships with the children, but we also work closely with the CPS caseworkers and attorneys involved in the case, in addition to the children’s caregivers, teachers, foster and biological parents, and their extended family. We do so to find the best possible outcome in each case, whether it be for the children to return home, assist in locating a temporary placement for the child, or connect with relatives for possible adoption.
How did you first hear about CASA?
When we moved to Montgomery County from South Carolina three years ago, we wanted to find a way to give back and get involved in the community, specifically with children since we have two of our own. We saw a CASA billboard on 105 in Conroe, and as we did more research and met with the volunteer coordinator Shellie, we were hooked.
What attracted you to this cause?
We were both very lucky to have been born into and raised by loving parents, and now we have three-year-old twin girls. Reading news stories about children who have been abused in our own community is disheartening and not something we have ever fathomed happening in our lives, nor envision ever happening for our own daughters. However, the reality is that child abuse and neglect happen more often than we think. We wanted to get involved early and play a positive role in childrens’ lives during such trauma.
Did you have any reservations about becoming an Advocate?
Admittedly, all of the information we received during training was overwhelming. We were also concerned about the time commitment and the ability to learn all of the rules and laws governing each case. However, as in most cases, trial by fire was the best method. We had our first case shortly after training and hit the ground running. We quickly learned the processes and our excellent CASA supervisor guided us every step of the way.
Can you describe how you felt when you were sworn in?
We were very proud to be officially accepted into an amazing organization and could not wait to begin serving in our role right away.
Can you describe how you felt when you took your first case?
It was heartbreaking to read about all of the cases in our county in need of a CASA advocate. We selected a case that was as manageable as possible given our ‘rookie’ status. Our first visit with the children was a little intimidating, but they very quickly warmed up to us and by the time we left, they were already looking forward to our next visit!
With so many great organizations to support, why should others choose to support CASA?
A CASA provides a voice for children who would otherwise be muted. As a CASA advocate, you get to develop real relationships with the children, hear their story and tell that story in court. Without CASAs, children’s voices are silenced.
What have you learned about children in foster care?
There are some really good foster homes and parents, but there are also some [placements and situations] that are not what you would want for your own children. As a CASA, we try our best to look at the benefits for each child’s situation, and work closely with CPS and the attorneys to find the best placement for the children while in foster care, whether it be with a relative or a foster parent.
What was most surprising to you about the role of an Advocate?
The most surprising aspect of being an advocate is the level of access and responsibility you have to everyone involved in the case, including the children, attorneys, CPS caseworkers, therapists, teachers, caregivers and the judge. A good CASA has great influence in providing the best possible solution for children who have been abused and/ neglected.
Is there are particular moment or memory that stands out for you?
Moments or memories that most stand out as a CASA is when you develop a relationship with your children and they begin to disclose information to you for the first time. It can be heart-wrenching, but at the same time, we have to keep it together and continue the conversation knowing that we have now created a bond that will ultimately determine the children’s best interest in the case. Some of the more positive memories include seeing our children’s faces light up when they get to see their biological parents at CPS visits, and delivering them presents on their birthdays and holidays.
Is there an achievement or contribution that you are most proud of?
Our greatest achievement or contribution as a CASA is being able to develop relationships with children and advocate for their best interests in the court of law. In addition, we have enjoyed raising funds for and participating in the CASA Superhero Run and the annual CASA Gala. We have such an amazing time at these events and get to meet other CASAs. We even invite our extended family and friends to attend so they can get more familiar with the organization and our role with CASA.
12. What would you say to someone considering becoming a volunteer Advocate?
For those who are considering becoming a CASA, do it. It is not only a rewarding experience, but it positively impacts our very own community, hoping to setup a better path for children and their parents. It’s one of few organizations where you can instantly witness the impact of your service first-hand, and watch the development of your children throughout the year and possibly longer.
13. How has this volunteer experience changed you?
We have become more aware of not only the great amount of abused and/or neglected children in our own community, but also the limited resources available to parents and children to get them on the path to success. A CASA has the ability to fight alongside the children for a voice in the matter and provide the best possible outcome during the experience in foster care, and where they go afterwards.
Brian Mullen is the Executive Director of Marketing at Lone Star College System.
Melinda Weathers is an Associate Professor at Sam Houston State University.