CASA Volunteer Spotlight
Updated: Aug 1, 2019
As part of our recurring section to highlight the people behind the work, we sat down with one of our volunteer advocates, Michael Prager. Michael has been doing volunteer work since he was a teenager in England, and has worked throughout the years as a registered nurse in both England and Australia, a magistrate in both the criminal court and family court in England, and a bail justice in Australia. He moved to Oxford four years ago, where his wife is a professor of chemical engineering at Ole Miss. In an attempt to stave off the boredom of retirement and continue fighting for the wellbeing of children, Michael joined CASA as a volunteer and was sworn in this January. See what he had to say below.
What drew you to become involved with CASA?
"It’s something that, because I’ve been involved in it and know the background and the difficulties and the psychology of children and the damage that is done in the whole area, I guess when I was looking for volunteer work here and came across CASA, I thought, well, this is me. I understand it and it’s probably somewhere where I can make the biggest contribution."
What do you find most rewarding about volunteering?
"It’s the knowledge that you’ve made a difference. I think volunteering is good for the soul. I think it’s probably good for your mental health as well, to feel that you’re doing something for others, which is what I’ve always been brought up to do I guess. I’m an Episcopalian, in fact I’m a Eucharistic minister in the Episcopal church, and that teaches outreach to others. In this work, there’s the satisfaction of actually seeing a result at the end. Unfortunately, some of the results that you see with CASA are not necessarily the results that you want to see, but hopefully you can move in a good direction—as long as the good outweighs the bad. And I guess, even if the outcome is not one that you’d be happy with or feel good about, at least the knowledge that along the track you’ve been able to mitigate on behalf of the child is fulfilling in itself."
Do you have a favorite story from your volunteer work?
"I was quite excited that I was able to participate in getting the permissions for the child whose case I’m on to go to Florida for the first time. It’s the first time she’s really been out of Lafayette County, I guess—certainly she’s never seen the ocean before. So being part of initiating that process so she could go for vacation, it’s one of those things that you wish you could be there when she first sees the ocean, see the look on her face. She’s only five, so maybe she won’t remember too much of it, but it’s worth a shot. And I guess, whatever happens, that hopefully will be a memory that’ll stick with her for life."
How has your time at CASA impacted your life or worldview?
"What I have concluded is that whether it’s England, Australia, or here, as I’m beginning to find, the problems are the same. The family problems, the child problems, the psychological problems haven’t changed from whichever country I’ve been involved. It’s a reminder that everyone is the same in a lot of ways, for good or bad. The legislation is different, but the outcomes it’s trying to achieve generally seem to me to be very similar. It’s all for the wellbeing of the child."
For anyone who is considering volunteering for CASA, why would you recommend becoming a volunteer advocate and what should they know?
"I would encourage anybody to do CASA work if they’re looking for something to volunteer for. I think, to be fair, they may need to know that it can be stressful, it can disappointing, it can be very frustrating, but at the same time it can be very fulfilling, and there’s a great need. I think now there are 48 children in Lafayette County foster care and we’ve only got 11 volunteers at the moment, and each child needs a volunteer. The evidence is that the children that have CASA’s have much better outcomes than those that don’t. As well, those decisions can happen much sooner, and the sooner it happens the better it is for the child. It is something that you need to put time into though.
People who are considering volunteering should be aware that there’s an awful lot of support from CASA with any problems they might have. People aren’t being thrown off the deep end and left to swim—they’ve got the training, they’ve got the support, and they have the benefit of working with other professionals. I guess the other thing is, the judge, case workers and the guardian ad litem actually appreciate having CASA volunteers. They always listen and they always thank you. I suppose that ties into what I said earlier about the satisfaction of volunteering, you know, the question of, 'Are you appreciated for what you do?' And the answer is that you are, because you’re doing a job that is needed."