From Abandonment to Achievement
How Jason Found the Will to Soar
When Jason’s step-grandmother decided to relocate from Alabama to Williamson County for a new job, Jason* relocated too. His step-grandmother worked long, varied hours, which gave him a lot of free time to roam the streets. While hanging out on a Friday night in a church parking lot with a group of teens, Jason was detained by police for trespassing.
Jason was held until the police station could make contact with his step-grandmother. She, however, had only one thing to say about the matter: “Keep him.” She no longer wanted the responsibility of raising Jason. What was a teen in a new state and with no family to do?
Police released Jason into the custody of Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, where he tested positive for drugs. When his case appeared before the juvenile court judge, he was remanded to a drug recovery center and paired with a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA).
CASA volunteers are everyday people, from all walks of life, who are appointed by a judge to watch over and advocate for abused and neglected children. Locally, these citizen-volunteers are specially trained by Williamson County CASA, a United Way partner agency that screens and prepares volunteers to advocate for over 700 children.
Vicki* had been a full-time CASA volunteer for just under a year when she was appointed to Jason’s case. As a CASA volunteer, Vicki would support Jason during one of the most difficulty times of his life— a time filled with lingering uncertainty and transition. “Jason felt like his family had abandoned him,” Vicki explained.
Without a good foundation or ongoing support, youth are at high risk of grade repetition and may find solace in substance use. Youth without help or the means to find a safe, stable home are 20% more likely of being homeless by the age of 19. And when all else fails, youth may turn to illegal activities to secure their basic needs. United Way’s youth-focused partners and programs help ensure local youth won’t fall through the cracks. These partners provide a range of services such as academic enrichment, life skills development, and mentorship.
Vicki collaborated with recovery center staff, the school system, and the guardian ad litem (i.e., Jason’s court-appointed attorney) to secure Jason’s school credits. She coached Jason through the last stretch of high school and helped him enroll in Tennessee Promise. And together, they explored Jason’s post-secondary options. “I would bring my laptop and we would sit at McDonald’s to go over the FAFSA and prep for college.”
Today, Jason and Vicki text regularly, often chatting about rival football teams. Jason is enjoying freshmen year at the University of Tennessee. As a young adult in extended foster care, he continues to receive support and safe housing from his foster family.
Although his juvenile court case has closed, Vicki still champions Jason’s success— one text at a time.
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*Names and details modified to protect confidentiality.