Volunteer Spotlight: Meet Cary Lee!

In 2007, Cary Lee Hanes arrived at Fairfax CASA with an eagerness to serve the youth of her community. Since then, Cary Lee has served 13 children and eight families with 781 hours dedicated to her cases. In her 17 years with Fairfax CASA, Cary Lee has seen a lot of change occur within the child welfare system. She continues her work as a volunteer with an enthusiasm and passion that is as fresh as the day when she first walked into Fairfax CASA’s door.

Her supervisor, Amy Prestidge reports, “Cary Lee is such an asset to Fairfax CASA, not only has she been a CASA for 17 years, but she has also been the CASA for 13 children. Cary Lee has remained one of the only consistent people in the life of her current CASA child. Cary Lee is professional, a strong advocate, she shows up even when her youth does not want her there, and she is so dependable. Despite all the other commitments that Cary Lee has such as family and full-time employment, she always prioritizes CASA, and we are lucky to have Cary Lee as a CASA.” 

While Cary Lee works full time and often has a lot of responsibilities, she does not let it deter her from seeing and visiting her CASA children. In fact, Cary Lee found the work so admirable she found herself taking a step further into the child welfare system—social work. Read on to learn more about Cary Lee’s time at Fairfax CASA.

How would your friends or family typically describe you, Cary Lee?

I think they would say I’m well-rounded and right now they probably would say I’m doing too much. I’m a CASA, I sing in a band, I work full time, and I’m in school to become a social worker as well. It’s a lot.

What kind of band?

I’ll say it’s classic rock. It’s basically Tom Petty and a-Fleetwood-Mac-kind-of-band.

Wow. And social work!

It’s actually being a CASA that motivated me to go back to Mason and get a master’s in social work because I’ve done this for so long. From the very beginning, working with the social workers–I really was in awe of what they did to work with the families so directly and to make a difference. I finally thought, “Yes, it’s going to be a huge change because it’s probably going to cut my income in at least half, but it’s not all about the money.” I think a lot of us during COVID had a lot more time to sit with ourselves and figure out what is important to us and figure out what we really want to do. So, I’m excited to do something different.

How did you find out about CASA?

In my previous job I actually had some free time, which is not the case now unfortunately. I had a lot of free time because I was waiting on a security clearance. I was just looking online for volunteer opportunities. The description of the job sounded perfect for me because I love kids and I love to write—I actually have a master’s in professional writing and editing from [George Mason University]. I became a reporter right out of college, and I don’t really do it so much anymore.

When I saw that I was like, “Ahh, writing and kids. Two things that I love.” So, I went and took the training. Like I said, when I read that description, it really made sense for me.

What motivated you to continue with it?

It’s super rewarding to be honest. It’s interesting because my friends that know I do it—of course they don’t know any details of the cases—but they understand what a CASA does and that these are children in foster care and that these are bad situations, and they are like “Man, that’s so depressing how can you do that?” Well, I get that perspective, but I have to look at it as the perspective that yes, they are in a bad situation, but we are the hope for them—like a light for them. We really are like their eyes and their ears.

What I saw as a CASA is that these kids have a whole team around them. They have a GAL. They have a social worker. Kids in foster care could have two other people. It could be a crazy amount of people, but all these people are super busy. They have a million cases so they don’t really get to know that child as well as a CASA can.

How many cases do you have right now? How are they going?

I only have one that has been going now for over 4 years. She’s definitely kept me busy. She’s a 14-year-old, and she’s in her third foster care placement.

You’ve been a CASA for 17 years. That is so incredible. What’s that been like?

It’s been amazing. I’ve learned so much. I mean the people are so wonderful and supportive. Sometimes it’s frustrating because things don’t go as you would hope they would go. I just try to see things from different perspectives and try to be empathetic. Ultimately, I keep doing it because I feel like it’s directly making a difference in your community and with the younger people—who can hopefully grow up and be happy, healthy productive members of society.

What do you think has most contributed to your stay here at CASA?

I think it’s seeing the case ending, seeing in some cases children reuniting with their parents, seeing the parent. I had one case that was like the perfect ending of how you want a case to end. The mom had seen what had gone wrong, took responsibility for that, got the counseling, got the help she needed, put the kids first. Everybody reunited. Everything was great and the girl even kept in touch with me after, which was great. Having cases like that I think helped to motivate me. But like I said it doesn’t always go like that—I don’t want to give that impression. But it’s seeing these families need support and really seeing the children in your case really do need someone there to advocate for them.

What do you find most exciting about CASA?

I love working with older kids and seeing the changes in their life. I had one previous case that kept in touch with me. There were a couple times I had to report to the social worker things she was doing like sneaking out of the house. She was 16 at the time, and she was furious with me because I had to keep reporting her behavior to the social worker, but we have a good relationship now. She kept in touch. She’s doing very well. She just had a child recently. She’s married and doing really great. So, I think it’s just really seeing the difference we can make. It’s such a privilege to me to be a part of these kids’ lives.

It is a privilege to have Cary Lee be a part of our organization. Her dedication and appreciation for what we do is immeasurable. She has such a keen understanding of what qualities it takes to be a CASA… and a social worker!

Thank you, Cary Lee!