How did you end up in Visalia? I lived in Colorado until I was 12. We lived in poverty, but I didn’t know it and enjoyed my childhood there. My older sister married and she and her husband moved to Exeter.

Together they convinced my mother to move to California for the possibility of a better life. I did not want to leave my friends, cousins, or favorite rivers to fish. I enjoyed the mountains and the weather and did not think I needed a better life. I came here begrudgingly in 1969 and am the only one in my family who remained.

How did you get your start in this line of work? I had a mental health background before CASA and worked with people recovering from trauma, substance use disorders, perpetrators of domestic violence, pregnant and parenting teens in a group home, and private clients who preferred hypnotherapy. I’ve always been interested in the human experience from the perspective of the marginalized in our culture. I first read about CASA from an advertisement on the back of a bus. I called the number and became a CASA volunteer from 2011 to 2013. I loved being a CASA volunteer, felt a deep connection with the staff, and saw that the work we were doing as volunteers changes children’s lives for the better. I never once doubted the efficacy of this work, and guiding this CASA team is a dream job.

Why are you passionate about your work? I believe every child matters and CASA makes a difference in the lives of the most vulnerable children in our community. These children and youth need healthy adults in their life to emulate and need someone to stand up for their best interests. I have nothing but respect and appreciation for our county social workers and the difficult work they are tasked with. The advantage of CASA is that we can spend more time with the child and learn more about his or her interests, goals, and needs. We share this with the court so the judge hearing the case has even more information and can make the best decision possible regarding the well-being of the child.

What is the most challenging thing about your job? For an organization like CASA, the more we serve, the more costs increase. It costs about $1,500 to train each volunteer, and we need to double the number of volunteers we presently have. Most of our resources come from fundraising, donations, and grants. Very few of the dollars we receive are from taxes. We need to retain and supervise our current volunteers while we recruit, screen, and train new volunteers. To complicate things further, we have areas of Tulare County that are chronically underserved. For example, in Porterville, we have more than 50 children assigned and only four active volunteers from that area. For that reason, we are opening an office in Porterville. These kids deserve the same care as all other children in Tulare County.

Tell us a little about life outside of work: I have been working metal and creating functional decorations, puzzles, tools, and fabricating since I learned how to strike a torch. I enjoy working on my old Jeep and bouncing around mountain trails, riding horses, and snooping around antique stores with my wife and daughter. I’ve ran the Seattle Rock-n-Roll marathon a few times with my daughter and will continue that as long as her body holds up.

What is something most people don’t know about you? I didn’t know my father and had few examples of what healthy fatherly behavior looked like. Before I married, I made it clear that I did not want to become a father because I believed I had no ability to be effective. Ten years later, my wife became pregnant and convinced me I would be a good father despite no good examples. When my daughter was born, I knew I had what it takes and loved every minute of fatherhood. Three years later, I asked my wife if we could have another, and soon my son was born. Raising those kids was the best experience of my life. At 19, my son was killed in a car accident and my life flipped upside down. One of my greatest joys was taken away and I grieved badly for years. As I grew to accept my new reality, I became extremely thankful for each of those 19 years and very appreciative of life in general. I view each moment and each person I meet as a gift.

What about Visalia makes this a great community to live and work in? So many compassionate, caring, and generous people. Visalia is no utopia by a long shot, and we have many things we are working to improve. I believe the key to a vibrant and thriving community is recognizing our vulnerabilities, acknowledging things we need to work on, and committing to make things better through respectful collaboration. Our local leaders (political and non-profit) may not always agree on all issues, but I believe each one has a vision for a better future for all citizens and each works hard to make dreams become reality.

If you were stranded on an island, what three objects would you take with you? A fishing net, fire-starter, and knife.