“Volunteering is the lifeblood of strong communities.”

I started my career in journalism. I also worked in book publishing for a while, and then I had children. When my kids were young, I was able to work part time and do some job-sharing.

Photos by Megan Monday

Maria | New London, WI

After that, I just was really seeking something more. I didn’t feel like I was giving back enough or doing anything truly meaningful, so I applied for a part-time position at Harbor House, the domestic abuse shelter in Appleton, as a communication and development coordinator.

I thought, you know, this feels like a big career-shift, but once I got the position, a lot of my skills transferred over…the writing, the public speaking, all of that.

I got into this work kind of by happenstance, but children’s issues, women’s issues have always been hugely important to me. I grew up to a teenage mom, and there were some struggles there; poverty, abusive things going on, so I just have always wanted to be able to help kids that were in those situations.”

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"Volunteering is so meaningful. It gives you so much back; you feel good about having a hand in impacting another person's life positively. Through every single volunteer experience, that's what's going to happen. It is hugely important. Volunteering is the lifeblood of good, strong communities. I try to encourage everyone to do it, just to get to see what it feels like.

Now I work with CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) of the Fox Cities. Our program is the newest one in the state of Wisconsin. I’m the first executive director.

The first child that we were acquainted with was 13 years old at the time. He has significant cognitive delays. His mom has significant mental health issues, didn’t know who his father was. I looked at that case and I thought, ‘Oh my gosh.’ To be honest with you, I’m a really hopeful and optimistic person, but because of the age of the boy and the serious deficits he had, I worried that he was going to end up aging out of foster care and never get placed.

Around that time, in our first volunteer advocate training class, we had a guy who used to be a social worker. He had also done a lot of work with issues of homelessness and mental health. So we’re like, ‘Okay. This is is the match.’ We paired him with the 13-year-old boy. This volunteer became like an uncle. He lived on a farm, and he and the boy would go out and feed the sheep together. They had capes and played super heroes. He provided so much love and support to this boy during all of the uncertainty of the process.

Fast forward to 18 months later and the boy is placed in a home. They’re planning to adopt him. I get so emotional about this. I never would have expected that.

Every day there’s a lot of ups and downs with these cases. The hope is, always, that kids will get to a safe and permanent home where they feel loved. That’s the number one thing.”

-Maria | New London, WI

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