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Column: Feeling powerless after shooting? This is one thing you can do to make a difference
Shannon Casas high res
Shannon Casas

The shooter had a speech impediment. He was bullied. His mother used drugs. He had a hard time making friends. None of these are excuses. 

Nineteen children and two teachers were gunned down.

All of it is heart-breaking.

Many of us wonder how tragedies like what happened in Uvalde, Texas, can be prevented. People clamor for stricter gun laws, better mental health services or increased school security. Surely, there is more we can do. But tragedy after tragedy, our federal leaders often don’t make much progress toward significant solutions, as the rhetoric devolves into opposing talking points rather than compromise that makes our kids safer. 

Many of us are frustrated by inaction. 

But I’ve got a suggestion of action you can take: Mentor a kid.

All kids need a grown-up who cares for them and looks out for their best interest. But they don’t all have one. Maybe this shooter needed a trusted, stable adult in his life. Kids going to school in the wake of this shooting surely need to have a trusted, stable adult supporting them. 

Kids struggle with anxiety, difficult home lives, bullying — a mentor can make a difference in their lives.

Before I became a foster parent, I mentored a local elementary school student. We’d read in the library once a week, and school staff told me her reading improved tremendously. We would also talk about her family, her favorite singer and things she liked to do. I hope that I became a trusted adult to whom she could bring her problems.

Those adults who can continue mentoring a child through their school career, can really make a difference. You can be one of those people.

There are a couple of local agencies that I have personal experience with that I know need volunteers. These are just two local opportunities of many.

Centerpoint 

Centerpoint, a Gainesville nonprofit focused on students and families, has a school-based mentoring program that pairs kids with mentors. Volunteers spend usually an hour a week visiting a kid at school. Kids are identified by school counselors and may be going through some difficulty such as coming out of homelessness or having parents going through a divorce. Many kids are experiencing anxiety.

There’s “not a lot a village can’t help with,” mentoring coordinator Annie Fox told me.

Mentors are also trained to know when to hand an issue off to a professional. Fox said counseling services often have long wait lists, but having an adult in a kid’s corner can make a difference for many.

Volunteering requires some brief training and a background check. Training is done one-on-one unless a large group applies. Summer is a great time to sign up and get trained so Centerpoint has services ready to go when the school year starts up again, Fox said.

Requirements: In-person training, mandated reporter training, background check

Time commitment: 1 hour per week

More info: centerpointga.org/mentoring2/; annie.fox@centerpointga.org  

Court-Appointed Special Advocates

As a foster parent, I’ve seen firsthand the important work of a CASA. These volunteers work with children in foster care and represent their best interest in their case in juvenile court. CASAs meet with the kids at least monthly and do a lot more work behind the scenes to get information from their schools, doctors and parents to determine how the kids are doing and what they need. In court, hearings are held regularly to determine things like whether children stay in foster care, reunify with their parents or their case moves to adoption. The CASA has a designated role in the hearings to provide information that will help the judge make a decision. CASAs often can devote more time and attention to a case and child than a government employee can. Children experiencing foster care walk through a lot of difficult circumstances, and CASAs can be a great support.

Our community needs “people willing to be present during the hard stuff, being able to look someone who is struggling in the eye, walk with them, rather than look away,” CASA’s executive director, Janet Walden, said.

Significant training is provided to prepare volunteers for this work.

Requirements: 30 hours of training over a six-week period, 10 hours of court observation, background check, 21 or older

Time commitment: 6-8 hours monthly

More info: www.halldawsoncasa.org; tracy@halldawsoncasa.org 

 

Shannon Casas is editor in chief of The Times and a North Hall resident.