This month’s Volunteer Spotlight goes to Kevin Monnin! Read below to learn about Kevin and his experiences as a CASA.
Kevin Monnin has only been with Fairfax CASA for over a year, but he has already made a great impact on the organization and the children in his cases. Kevin is originally from Northern Virginia and grew up in Centreville. He has an immense interest in special education and child advocacy. With these interests in mind, Kevin was led to participate in volunteer work with Fairfax CASA.
His supervisor, Emily Rea, commented on Kevin’s work, “Kevin is an excellent report writer and a joy to work with. He is extremely reliable, shows up for his CASA children, and is always open to new cases and new opportunities to help out our program. He has been a great source of caring consistency and mentorship to his current case, which has been a tough one.”
We are extremely appreciative to have Kevin as one of our amazing volunteers, and we cherish the excellent work he does. Learn more about Kevin and all that he has achieved and experienced at Fairfax CASA in the following interview:
Kevin, how were you first introduced to CASA?
During my PhD program, I felt kind of disconnected from the classroom. I used to work with kids all day every day, and I did not have that opportunity in my capacity as a student and as a researcher. I had heard of CASA through a professor and decided to join CASA and take a case to feel like I was actively giving back to the community in a way I wasn’t able to because of my position as a researcher. So, I started CASA—and that was over a year ago now. I’ve been on two cases—two very different cases but also kind of eye-opening to see two different sides of the possibilities in these cases. You learn a lot personally, and I feel I’ve given back, which was kind of the reason to join in the first place.
Could you tell us a bit more about yourself? What have you been up to as of late?
I’ve been working on my PhD in special education. I’m about to finish it, hopefully, by this summer. I’ll be all wrapped up with that and moving on to a position in special education advocacy or special education research at an institute or a think tank. So, I am going to be in the job market in the near future!
How are your current cases going?
One actually just ended very happily. He was adopted, which was great, and it was a wonderful ceremony. It was so nice to be able to attend that and kind of see the hard work that not only I helped with but also the CASA that was working the case before me—they were really instrumental in making sure that outcome was so positive. So, I was really happy to get to see that. My other case has been one I’ve been on since the very beginning of my CASA journey. He is in Fostering Futures now, in independent living, so we are just working with him to ensure that he has all the resources he needs to be successful and really thrive.
How do you manage to connect with these children?
You have to think about their perspective and understand where they’re coming from—whether that be culturally or education-wise. Communication is definitely a challenge, and you really need to find the best ways to be able to communicate. I think it does help that I’m a bit younger—I can kind of speak to being young. We might share similar interests in TV or culture and that kind of thing, but that is one way.
I think the best way to be able to communicate with them is to keep showing up. If you show up over and over again, they understand that you’re not just another person that’s going to come in and out of their lives. They have so many people who come into their case or are with them for maybe a month, two months, or a year and then are gone. That’s not what CASA is, that’s not who the CASA should be, and that’s not what I intend to be in any of my cases. I’m always going to be the person that keeps coming and showing up. I think that’s one huge way to be able to gain their trust and be able to talk openly with them. Because they know you’re reliable, that’s the key.
What’s the best part of being a CASA?
I think the best part of being a CASA is getting to realize that the kids trust you with the things that they share with you. They’re willing to open up to you. They see you as a trusted adult in their lives and that I think comes at a very specific moment. That is definitely the best part—when you realize that you’ve gained their trust.
What do you find difficult about being a CASA?
The most difficult thing is seeing all the small, tiny ways that the child welfare system is unable to meet kids’ needs. It’s not something that’s so obvious all the time. It could be that a therapist doesn’t attend a session with a kid or there’s no translator at a meeting. These are just little things that add up and you just realize how this impacts the child’s experience. This impacts the way that the kid sees adults and that’s really hard to see—not to say that people are doing it on purpose, but it’s just a fact of any profession—things happen. It’s really challenging to see just the little, tiny things that are impacting his ability to be successful. But it is something that I expected, so I’m not going to say it’s unexpected, but it’s hard to see. It’s hard to be that reliable person when other things are not working the way that they should.
How has being a CASA affected you?
It’s made me more grateful for the things that I’ve had in my life that have allowed me to join a volunteer organization. I have the time to be able to commit to this volunteer organization in a way that a lot of people don’t. I attribute that mostly to my childhood, my family, and my upbringing and the values that my family put in me that allowed me to be successful.
I always think of these kids as if they have that reliable person in their lives perhaps, they might have a different outcome in the future, so I try to be that person in whatever way I can, and I try to do my job as a CASA to the best of my ability. I think this job really makes you reflect on your own life and also understand that your experience is not going to be other people’s experiences. Most of these things are beyond your control. All you can do is your best; all you can do is what you signed up to do and do it well. That’s what being a CASA has taught me.