Kurt Hastings has seen a lot of the world. Some of it by foot, as in 2016 when he and his wife trekked the Camino de Santiago, an ancient 500-mile pilgrimage from southern France across northern Spain to Santiago de Compostela. Some of it on the back of a motorcycle when the weather is good, for trips a little closer to home. And some of it while imagining the view from above, like on days when he flies RC airplanes with the Southern New Hampshire Flying Eagles club.
Thankfully, Kurt’s life’s journey has also brought him to CASA of New Hampshire. In 2019, after retiring from a long career as a Spanish teacher at Pinkerton Academy, Kurt wanted to continue working with and helping children by volunteering as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA).
Kurt explains that his professional experience made the need for CASA advocates clear. “As a high school teacher for 33 years, I was privy to a lot of history behind some of my kiddos. There’s a lot more going on in kids’ lives than people understand. There’s a lot going on in the family life that kids are adjusting to. Sometimes roles get reversed and the kids become the parents. I don’t know if the general public really realizes the difficulties that these kids go through.”
Kurt has one case nearing completion, and recently accepted a second. He has learned that there is an evolution that children go through during the life of the case. “There’s a certain period of time where the kids need to learn who you are, and learn to trust you. As that trust grows they start to open up more.”
He recalls that, “there were several months in the beginning where it was like pulling teeth to get a conversation going, because the kids don’t know who you are, and there are already trust issues to start with in their lives. But then month-by-month you see progress, and you start to see them come out of their shell. Seeing them smile, seeing them be like kids, watching them progress—that to me is rewarding. You get to see who they really are, after coming out of a dysfunctional situation.”
As is often true, Kurt, who praises both DCYF staff and foster parents for the hard work they do, has seen turnover in nearly every aspect of his case children’s lives. Children are assigned new Child Protective Services Workers (CPSWs), are moved to new foster placements, and have to adjust to new school districts.
He states, “the benefit of the CASA is that you’re often that one consistent person that’s been in the children’s lives throughout the entire process. No matter where the case goes, the CASA is the anchor. I at times will find myself reminding others of what has happened during the case, what has worked and what hasn’t, and what I feel the children’s needs are. Being with the children from the start, you’ve built a file of information from many contacts with the child’s providers, hopefully creating an understanding about what has happened and changed since the very beginning. As their CASA, you’re the one keeping the children’s interests front and center.”
Kurt likens the work of the CASA to parenting, saying, “It gets easier as you move from bringing that newborn home [i.e. the start of a case], and then as the months go on you see progress, and you see smiles that you didn’t necessarily see in the beginning. It’s a wonderful thing to see that growth in the children.”
He sums up his experience by saying, “It’s a fulfilling role in the life of children. Your only interest is working for their benefit. You get to help them navigate all of the things that are going on around them. As an advocate you have a voice in decisions that are being made, both large and small.”
CASA needs more bilingual volunteers like Kurt. If you speak multiple languages, please consider applying to be a CASA volunteer! You can attend an upcoming virtual information session to learn more, or submit your application today.