Monica Lopez

Growing up, Monica Lopez saw her share of tough stuff – gangs, drugs, violence. She knew plenty of kids who got caught up in it all. But she didn’t. Monica focused on school and stayed out of trouble. She went to college at the University of Texas at Austin, and got a degree in youth and community studies.

Monica works an administrative job at a private school. She became a CASA volunteer to work more closely with kids who don’t have the same advantages as the children at her job.

One of the first cases Monica was assigned to involved a drug-addicted mother of three children by two different fathers. She was struggling with her recovery and on the verge of losing her parental rights.

It was a difficult situation on many levels, but Monica approached it with a calm and single-minded focus on the best interests of each child.

The first child was placed with her father almost immediately. Case closed.

The situation with the remaining two children was more complicated. The 5-year-old girl and 6-year-old boy were staying with their maternal aunt, but it wasn’t an arrangement that was going to last long-term.

The children’s father, Larry, and his wife agreed to take custody of his children, but they had concerns about the transition. What if mom sobered up and wanted them back? How would the children adapt to moving in with Larry, his current wife—and their daughter?

“I was overwhelmed with the whole situation,” Larry recalls.

From the moment Monica got involved as his kids’ CASA volunteer, Larry says Monica was a “stabilizing presence” for young Ben and Amanda. She gave them a sense of safety and continuity at a time of upheaval.

“She didn’t have any problems dealing with the situation,” Larry says. “She was always trying to figure out if we needed anything, if there was anything she could do for the children.”

One time, it was eyeglasses for Ben, who had been struggling with reading. Another time, it was a $100 voucher for groceries when money was tight and bills were due. She talked to Amanda’s teacher about the turmoil the family had gone through, which helped the teacher to be more patient with Amanda’s outbursts.

Today, Amanda is still working through the emotional ups and downs, but is throwing fewer tantrums.

“She’s a thousand times better than Day 1,” Larry says.

Ben has made big strides in school. He’s reading confidently and having an easier time with homework.

Not long after the court granted Larry custody of Ben and Amanda, he got laid off from his job as an auditor at a computer company, where he had worked for 12 years. No one would blame him for feeling demoralized by the bad timing, but he insists he doesn’t.

“I’m just not the type of guy to say, ‘Hey, I’m frustrated. I give up,’” he says. “Something good will happen. The kids keep me going.”

For Monica, watching Larry and his wife do what was needed to create a safe, permanent home for his children was inspiring—and an affirmation of the difference one person’s support can make in the life of a family.

“I know how challenging life can get,” says Monica. “If I can make a difference simply by my continued support and presence, I’ll do it a million times. Success stories like this one are not only rewarding, they are a life-changing experience.”

“If I can make a difference simply by my continued support and presence, I’ll do it a million times.”