Mike LaRoche’s volunteer journey began one fall evening in 2009. Up until then he’d contributed his fair share of time in support of his wife’s tremendous volunteer efforts, but always doing ancillary tasks. Setting up tables and chairs and running the concession stand at football games was helpful, but Mike wanted to do something more significant; something that was his own. Says Mike, “I was looking for something that wouldn’t be about me, but would be truly giving back. It happened that I heard a PSA for Court Appointed Special Advocates of New Hampshire on the radio one evening. I didn’t know what CASA was, so I investigated it, and here I am 13 years later.”
He continues, “Step by step, I journeyed into becoming a CASA. And it’s absolutely the most fabulous thing I’ve ever done in my life, aside from marrying my wife and having my children. I can’t explain to people the incredible impact I can have over time and even instantaneously with the children on these cases. And how easy it is. You just have to show up and introduce yourself. And then, when you tell the child you’re coming back, you have to come back when you say you’re coming back, and you have to reintroduce yourself. But over a year, over a couple of years sometimes, you develop trust with that child. And that’s the most important tool we have, because until that child trusts you they’re not going to share with you the most compelling and important things, which are what we need to know and share with the judge. So it’s just a fabulous thing.”
When Mike talks about his volunteer work, he can’t hold back a small smile. But it’s his eyes that are the most telling. Diamonds couldn’t outshine their twinkle as he speaks of the good he’s able to accomplish as a CASA.
“I look forward to it,” Mike says. “It’s a break from my workday world. It puts the rest of my life into perspective. I always come back from my visits, or team meetings, or court hearings feeling exceptionally grateful for how fortunate I am with my family, and with my life growing up because I was not abused or neglected. My worst day at work can never be nearly as bad as what some of these children go through, and that’s my mantra. So, I love it. I love being able to break away and go do my CASA work. What I do as a CASA is so significant to me that I have no problem making the time for it. I think most people would be the same.”
There are many fulltime employees who, like Mike, have a deep desire to help, but feel they’re unable to play a meaningful part until after they retire. Mike says, “When I speak about my role at CASA to people with busy lives, careers, and families to care for, I can see in their eyes that they’re thinking they could never fit this in.” Chuckling, he continues, “I always jump in and say ‘oh, yes you could!’ I can, and so I know others can.”
Mike reinforces this with some practical advice. “I encourage people to go to their employer. Because what I have found through my own experience is that once you explain to your employer how significant this work is, and that it’s something you want to do, most employers will support you 100%. They’ll work with their employee to help free up their schedule.”
Some employers offer paid time off for volunteer work, which can cover a portion of a CASA advocate’s time. And many allow employees the needed flexibility in their work schedule to attend to their CASA duties. Gaining your employer’s backing early in the process can be the key to balancing a fulltime work schedule and a meaningful contribution as a CASA.
Mike assures you that your efforts will be worth it. “I’ve had many cases, and I can say that a great majority of them have had wonderful endings. I’ve made some friends with not only children, but with parents, and we keep in touch occasionally throughout the year even after the case ends. Or I’ll bump into them somewhere and they always smile, they always say hi, they remember my name, I remember theirs, and it was nice, at that moment in their lives, to have brought some positivity to them.”
Those of a certain age can probably recall the ubiquitous “Be Like Mike” ad campaign of the early 1990s. While none of us who isn’t already a 6’6” basketball prodigy has any chance of ever becoming one, we all have the chance to be a star in the eyes of a child. If you have the desire in your heart to help a child, then CASA of New Hampshire can provide all of the training and support you need to Be Like Mike.