Fill in the blank. Couples who ______ together, stay together. While there are many worthy activities to complete that expression, we think volunteering is a special experience for couples to share. This Valentine’s Day, we spotlight four local couples who have chosen to take on the role of Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer, each serving on an individual case. We are so grateful to these compassionate individuals who have taken the pledge to advocate on behalf of children in care. Join us in celebrating the efforts of these amazing volunteers, and the purpose they share in supporting youth in need.
CASAs Michael and Marianne
Michael and Marianne Pekala met over five decades ago at a drag race in Chicago. The couple, now based in Murrieta, has been married for more than 54 years. In January of 2018, they both decided to take the first steps towards child advocacy and trained to become CASA volunteers with Voices for Children. Since being paired with their respective assigned youth, both Michael and Marianne have found ways to positively impact the lives of their children.
Michael shared of his experience as a CASA, “This young boy didn’t know how to hold a bowling ball or ask for a to-go bag after a meal […] I can be somebody for someone who hasn’t had the best in their life.” Marianne appreciates the shared mission between her and her husband and shared, “Even though our cases are different, we understand and sympathize when each other shares about the challenges.”
CASAs John and Belen
John Meza Rios and Belen Buenrrostro are high school sweethearts and have been together for more than five years. After attending the University of California, Riverside, together, both enrolled in master’s programs for business. Still, with so much on their plates, the couple knew they wanted to support their community in some way. “When the pandemic hit, we saw how hard it was on the children to do distance learning and realized these kids don’t have a supportive adult just for them,” Belen shared. In 2020, the pair signed up for a Voices for Children Volunteer Information Session and haven’t looked back.
“We both come back from our visits so happy and uplifted,” said John, “My favorite part is seeing the siblings that I’m assigned to grow and change.” Both John and Belen appreciate that the CASA program has a direct impact on children in their community and continue to support their assigned youth through the pandemic.
CASAs Alexis and Jacob
Alexis Sunga and Jacob Hernandez are based in Corona and have been together for six years. Working as nurses on the night shift, their drive to help others has always been a shared passion in their relationship. After hearing about the opportunity to volunteer through a Voices
for Children staff member, the couple went through training together and became CASAs in fall of 2019. “The need is there,” Jacob shared, “Lots of kids don’t have a CASA. You get to make a difference in their lives long term.” Since being paired with their assigned youth, the team has taken away a great deal of knowledge from their experience. “It is a lot of work, but seeing how happy you make them […] makes all the difference,” Alexis told us. True to color, the pair will be spending Valentine’s Day at work helping those in need.
CASAs Samantha and Ryan
Samantha Tehrani was a foster parent in San Diego County when she learned about CASAs through her children. After becoming a CASA herself in Murrieta, Samantha inspired her partner, Ryan Poley, to take the pledge as well. Samantha has been serving for four years now, and Ryan for two and a half. “Helping foster youth is such a rewarding experience!” Ryan shared, “To see the happiness on a child’s face is priceless.” While both Samantha and Ryan have busy careers of their own—Samantha working in the mental health field and Ryan as a restaurant manager—they take the time to support their assigned youth in special ways. “It gives me joy to advocate for them, be it for school success, better living arrangements, or just something that brings [them] happiness, like music lessons,” said Samantha. While maintaining confidentiality of their respective case children, they find that volunteering together allows them to exchange advice and feedback while sharing the experience in a meaningful way.
Become a CASA Volunteer
These four couples show us that all it takes to advocate on behalf of a child in need is care, compassion, and time. Consider dedicating 10-15 hours a month to serve as an advocate for the best interests of a child or sibling set in local foster care. Learn how you – and your partner – can become a CASA volunteer by signing up for an online Volunteer Information Session today.