If you’ve been involved with CASA of McLennan County at any point during these last several years, chances are that you have, at some point, crossed paths with Ramona Cooper and Paula Hayward. The two, who are affectionately referred to as the “Dynamic Duo” by the CASA staff, aren’t shy about sharing their passion for CASA. So we recently asked the duo to share a little about about themselves, as well as why CASA is such an important part of their lives.
What made you choose CASA as a way of giving back to your community?
Ramona: As a school psychologist in Alaska and Texas for many years, I worked with troubled children, met with parents and teachers and visited in homes. I saw and experienced situations that I wanted to work to change, but was bound by school expectations. When I retired, I found CASA, which allows me to continue to use my training and skills to make a difference for children and families. CASA gives me the opportunity to help children in a meaningful way and to serve the community. I have become a “fierce advocate” for CASA.
Paula: When I retired from Waco ISD just a tad over ten years ago, it was a breath of fresh air to be able to choose what to do with my free time. Having always been active in our local ministries and our church, God impressed on my heart to find a service opportunity in our community, outside the church, where I could share God’s love and make a difference in others’ lives. A church friend approached me with a thought she had been mulling over for some time – to consider the work she was doing – that of becoming a CASA Volunteer, of helping children who had been hurt and abused by their own families. I had never heard the words Court Appointed Special Advocate! The more I read about CASA, the more I was drawn to the work. My friend was not aware of my childhood, nor did she know that I had been adopted at birth, later to be raised in a children’s home, moved into an abusive home and eventually into a foster home, only to age out of the “system,” by my own choice, at age 17. There were no advocates (like CASA’s) in California those many, many years ago. By the time I had a chance to meet my friend’s Supervisor and discuss the opportunity of working with children who were hurt and broken, not by their own choice, I knew this was going to be my “perfect fit.” I have never regretted my decision to help give hurting children a chance to be safe, live a life of normalcy, and most importantly, to feel and know the love and security of a parent’s arms embracing their little bodies tightly forever! I, too, have become a “fierce advocate.”
What do you enjoy most about the time you have served as a CASA volunteer?
Paula & Ramona: Seeing a child glow with excitement and become very involved with an event, which we share, gives us great joy. Taking a child to an eating establishment with a buffet, watching their eyes open as big as saucers, and hearing them say, “I’ve never eaten in a restaurant before,” is a moment you just don’t forget.
When you are not active in your CASA case, what can we find you doing?
Ramona: Activities with my husband are a highlight, such as concerts, hunting for Native American artifacts, travel and even yard work. Other volunteer work includes mentoring at Brook Ave. Elementary School and visiting homebound friends. Also, neighbors threaten to give me a speeding ticket as I fly through the neighborhood on my three-wheel bicycle, taking my Australian Shepard for a run.
Paula: Spending time with my 10 grandchildren and first great-grandchild tops my list! I love to work with my husband making his yard and garden a lovely place for us to spend time together with family and friends, as well as scrapbooking our memories for our children to enjoy in years to come. My Bible, books and crossword puzzles manage to occupy our quieter hours as well as hosting a Life Group of folks who love to talk and play games.
What are your most memorable moments as CASA volunteers?
Paula & Ramona: Having worked together on several occasions, we find that our talent and skills complement each other, making us a stronger team. It really helps to bounce things off each other and realize we are having a “flash bulb” moment! Interestingly, we both chose the same two memorable moments of our entire advocacy together.
On one case, which lasted 5 years, we advocated for a child through eight placements in six cities, nine CPS workers and many heartbreaking moments. As a 5’11”, 215 pound African-American athlete, he was powerful and swift as a gazelle. We wondered what his chances were for adoption, as adoption rarely happens during the teenage years. The most heartfelt and thrilling moment occurred when we stood in the courtroom and watched this tall, strong, young man (now seventeen years old), be adopted into his beautiful “forever” family, one which just happened to come with a younger brother — a family that could take him on many exciting adventures of life. Not a dry eye in the courtroom; even his attorney shed a few!
On another occasion, we worked many, many long hours on a court report for a case, which is very complicated, with many moving parts. Feelings of elation overcame us as the judge, two attorneys, and CPS came to us and complimented the thoroughness of our report. The judge stated from her bench that it was one of the best and well-stated reports she had ever read. Those moments are few and far between, however they provide the burning incentive to keep fighting fiercely for our CASA children!
Have Paula and Ramona’s words inspired you? If you’d like to learn more about becoming a CASA for our community’s most vulnerable children, please click here.