When I was a baby, I was removed from my biological mother's care due to neglect. I was one of six children removed from our mother. I have an older brother, older sister, and a twin sister. When my twin younger brothers were born, just nine months after Jamie and I were, they were immediately taken into foster care as well. I don't really remember much from that time but I know that we were placed in foster homes and eventually we were all adopted by the Richards family. We were 6 of the 13 children adopted by the Richards' in a home that also included some of their biological children, boys who were in their upper teens. My twin sister and I were 5 years old. We learned quickly that this adoption did not mean we were going to have a normal childhood. The home was full of chaos and abuse. When one of the 13 adopted children misbehaved, every one of us was spanked. We had to wait outside the room where our brothers and sisters were getting whooped listening to them cry as they were beaten. Sometimes, the punishment included being locked in our rooms and not fed. Or, we had to eat old, moldy, or rotten food, while our parents and their biological children ate good food.
If this wasn't bad enough, many of us 13 adopted kids also suffered sexual abuse at the hands of the Richards' biological children. The Richards' seemed to know that this was happening - but did nothing to stop it. Some of the older children tried to run away...but they always came back. One time we kids even called the police. They came to the house, but nothing came of it. During the years this was all happening, our parents were recognized as the 2002 Michigan Adoptive Parents of the Year by the Michigan Foster and Adoptive Parent Association. Ironic, right? The face they presented to the world was that we were a loving, happy family...when in reality it was a nightmare.
One day, without warning, we were all picked up from our school by a bus that took us to Kids First, which is an emergency shelter for Kent County kids who are being placed in foster care. Although my siblings and I were glad to be away from the Richards, we were split up once we were in foster care. I stayed with my sisters, and our brothers were sent to two separate placements. What I did not know then, was that the next few years would be just as difficult as that last few were. That's because over the next two years, I would be put into 10 different homes. That's right - 10. My sisters and I were not well taken care of. We went to school in dirty clothes. And I was bullied and beat up at school. It was hard to make any friends because we had to switch schools so much. But also during this difficult and ever-changing time, I met my CASA - my Court Appointed Special Advocate, Kari.
Kari would come and hang out with us... sometimes together and sometimes just one of us at a time. We would do different things together. What I remember most is just sitting and talking to her. I could talk about sports for hours, and Kari would just listen. She's a great listener! She cared about what I was saying. She cared about ME. And at that time, it was very hard to wrap my head around that fact that anyone cared about me. My siblings did, but we were all just trying to survive. It was Kari who made me feel wanted and that I could be loved. She was always a point of stability for me in a life filled with trauma and chaos. People were always walking out of my life, but Kari never left. This was huge. And this is why CASA is so important.
CASA gives kids like me and my brothers and sisters a chance to be heard and a chance to have a say in what happens to us. CASA gives us one caring adult we can count on. Having a CASA to speak up for what was best for me truly changed my life. My journey through the foster care system ended when I was adopted by my mom, Diane Lake, when I was 10 years old. She has fostered many children and I am one of the lucky ones she adopted. She gives me unconditional love and has helped me start to heal from everything I went through as a child. I am currently a student at Grand Rapids Community College and hope to transfer to Grand Valley or Western when I am done there. I want to study athletic training and sports psychology and work with professional sports teams someday. I work at a part-time job as well as go to school...because even if my mom gives me unconditional love, I still have to pay for my car insurance!! And when I'm not working or going to school, I help my old soccer coach with my former high school team. My life today would not be what it is without my mom, or without my CASA. Kari fought for me when I needed someone in my corner. That's something every child in foster care deserves.
These words are Amaih's own. Annually, United Way funding provides 10 foster children with a CASA Volunteer. On average it costs $1,250 to advocate for one child for one year. United Way helps cover the cost of training both new volunteers and keeping active volunteers up-to-date on current issues. United Way funds help defray the costs of printing the CASA Volunteer court reports required every quarter on every case from every volunteer. It also helps cover the cost of Volunteer parking when the CASA Volunteers attend their quarterly court hearings in front of the Judges. CASA Volunteers are not left without supervision: United Way funding covers some of the personnel expenses to provide the professional supervision and mentoring CASA Volunteers need to do an objective and thorough job on the cases they are assigned.