Six years ago, Libertyville resident Jim Sayre had just retired when he decided to volunteer for a nonprofit called CASA.
“I had been in the pharmaceutical industry for most of my life,” he said, explaining how he was immediately attracted to the organization’s mission statement after he first learned about it during a company luncheon.
CASA stands for court-appointed special advocate, and Sayre wanted to join its ranks.
When a minor is taken from their home because of abuse or neglect, CASA tries to help the child within the juvenile court system. A judge assigns a volunteer who advocates in the child's best interests.
While CASA is a national organization, Lake County’s branch is based out of Deerfield and has 225 volunteers serving more than 500 local children.
“It’s like organ transplant. There are this many people that need an organ and there are only this many organs,” Sayre said. “It’s the same thing with the CASA organization. There are three times more kids out there that need a CASA and there’s only so many available,” which is one of the reasons he got involved.
After 40 hours of training, Sayre was assigned his first child. “My role as an advocate is a mentor, a friend, a spokesperson,” he explained to the 14-year-old boy about the reports he would be making to his judge, lawyers and caseworkers.
But the Lake County father of two and grandfather of four quickly realized the teen's family dynamics were very different from his own.
“Everything about the kid is a challenge,” he said. “You don’t get the truth from the mother and the father’s not around to share [information].”
So it’s Sayre's responsibility to investigate the facts and report back on his child’s mental and physical well being and anything else going on in the minor's life.
During Sayre's first five-year mentorship, his child went through many changes, from living with three family members and in three facilities to being assigned five different caseworkers.
“Who does he have in the whole wide world? Nobody,” Sayre said about the child’s situation. “Not one single person within 1,000 miles that he can say, 'Hey I have family.' ”
That is one reason why Sayre tries to establish a personal bond.
“It’s a stacked deck,” he said. “When they are exposed to a CASA, it’s one more chance to improve their odds.”
That’s what all volunteers like Sayre are trying to do.
“I really appreciate what you’ve done for me,” Sayre remembered his first mentee telling him while transitioning out of the program. But just because he’s been assigned a new child, doesn't mean he can't still be there for his old.
The former mentee, now 19, recently called Sayre in the middle of the night looking for job advice after not hearing back from several potential employers.
Sayre poised himself and replied, “Let’s have a little discussion about interview skills.”