In March of 2000, I was the victim of a hit-and-run accident and left for dead. Three operations on my leg, much physical therapy and four years later, I was able to somewhat move on, but my life had forever changed. The X-rays of my leg looked like broken shards of pottery, and the doctor put me back together as best he could. I was lucky that my life had merely forever changed and not simply ended with that incident.
There were dark days, but I never felt sorry for myself. I had no time for that. The goal then was to adapt and survive. I was on crutches, on lots of powerful pain medications and barely able to go from bed to couch, let alone drive.
Now, I’m just very lucky to walk, to live independently and be able to drive. My attitude has always been that I can do anything I set my mind to; it just may take me longer now. In fact, I have accomplished what others would deem the impossible.
During this devastating period, good people stepped into my life. A friend of my father’s going back to their high school days lived here in my town. We had never met before this incident, but his wife and he were quite kind in making sure that I was all right and not alone. He would visit three or more times a week, and his wife would cook such wonderful food.
Helping me was not only the right thing to do, he later said, but was in part repaying a favor of assistance that he himself had received some years ago during his own hour of need. It’s paying it forward.
I had never heard that term but this is what “paying it forward” is all about. Someone helped him with no expectation of anything in return. He would one day repay that favor by helping someone else. That someone else would be me.
Later, when he suffered dementia the roles reversed. I visited him in a nursing home bringing candy, occasionally little mechanical toys that his deteriorating– but still focused engineering mind– would study and a reassuring pat on the back that he was not alone.
I would arrive at the dining room searching for him amongst a sea of white hair. He would almost always notice me before I could spot him. A bit farther on as his memory faded even more, his wife and I were about the only people he recognized. Even then we wasn’t sure sometimes.
He had all these wonderful stories of his life, such a brilliant mind and it was so saddening to helplessly witness his decline. He always tried to help people as he traveled life’s highways. He could explain the universe, God and how all things fit together for a reason. And, when he told it, it made sense. He became a great mentor to me, and I’ve never forgotten his words.
He peacefully passed on. When he passed on, he left me his most valuable of possessions: his memories, teachings, and philosophy of life. One philosophy was paying it forward.
I wondered what I could do to “pay it forward? ” This is when I discovered an organization with a little name but a big mission called CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates). I thought I’d give it a shot and never regretted that decision. My experiences with CASA far exceeded any of my expectations.
To me, CASA means helping one child at a time. It’s the last line of defense helping children from falling through the cracks of the system. You go into it with no expectation of anything in return but receive so much more than you can ever realize.
My first case was two brothers in a foster home an hour a half from me*. It was a long trip but enjoyable with time to think along the way. I did that route every month. I learned every shortcut along the way and cut down the travel time until it was about an hour and ten minutes.
Those kids knew I was coming to see them. The foster parents were great but needed all the help they could get to keep these little ones going, from obtaining medical treatments, visitations, or just moral support. There were a few times I left that house sad, but mostly I left with a warm feeling inside of having done something positive, something good.
The younger child took a liking to me, and he was always thinking of others. I was offered a half-eaten hamburger, an only partially chewed gummy bear, and once a piece of candy of unknown provenance. It must have been good, and he wanted to save some for me. A little lint, a bit of dirt, a grain of sand, hey, what’s that between friends? The foster father did step in, much to my relief, and confiscated that most unjolly rancher.
Both of those kids, like all of the children in these cases, are caught up in the system due to no fault of their own. They have little to no control over what’s happening to them, let alone understand it and are in the most vulnerable of states. That’s what CASA does: Look out for those who can’t look out for themselves.
The case dragged on far longer than expected. By now, the visits weren’t so much like that of a social worker, but a neighbor dropping by. The last visit was shortly before the shelter-in-place due to COVID-19. It was wintertime, and the kids wanted to showcase their bike riding abilities. The foster father, and I stood outside as they expertly demonstrated their skills. They rode past with laughter and shouts of “look at me!”
I told the foster father (who by that time his wife and he had decided to proceed with adoption) that years from now these kids will vaguely remember this day as being very cold, riding their bikes, someone they knew as Mr. Rann standing beside their dad, and being very happy. That moment made it worth it all.
That case has finalized, and the adoption completed. It was a battle to fight and see it through one way or another. The real winners were those children. To me, that’s what it’s all about.
*Most cases are much closer than an hour and a half, but there are children from our counties that are placed further away. If we can serve them, we do, and Rann was willing to drive to be able to advocate for these siblings.