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News and Information from the National Court Appointed Special Advocate Association

Alum Editorial

My Journey with Lela

Shaden Jedlicka

Lela Morgan, the director of children’s ministries at the church I attended, taught me how to dream of the possible and to find the good in every negative. No words can describe how grateful I am for this woman. This angel!

Our journey began when I was 12 years old. At this time in my life, I was so lost and confused. My responsibility as an older brother—realistically, a father figure—was my main focus in the midst of all the drama.

Lela made many offers to help me. But instinctively protecting myself from being hurt again, I made her earn my trust. My experiences had built a wall of skepticism. Not really knowing how to protect myself, my response to any type of affection was unhealthy and many times drastic.

Recommendation for CASA volunteers: At first, a young person might be skeptical about an advocate’s commitment to them. Some youth might even try to test you. My advice is to encourage you not to take things personally. Past experiences taught me that adults only cared because they felt sorry for me, not because I had something to offer the world. Many times that potential supporter proved my theory correct, causing me to reject any form of support from an adult. Most youth feel this way, but that feeling can be reversed.

Meeting a youth where they are, not where you expect them to be, can amp up a CASA volunteer’s efforts and revise theories of doubt and skepticism. Remember that your effectiveness will most likely be determined by your perception of who that youth was, is and will become. Commit to challenging your youth to take chances, and do not allow yourself to make assumptions based on a first impression.

Naturally, many youth test boundaries to see if you care enough to stick around. Openness and honesty about the situation can have a positive impact.

Lela was the first person to ask me what I wanted to do with my life. Over time, our conversations became the highlight of my week. I began to love and trust again. Introducing me to her husband Gary, her three hyperactive sheep Abraham, Sarah and Bobby, her fluffy orange tomcat Col. Mustard and her dog Katie gave me a sense of pride and responsibility.

Recommendation for CASA volunteers: Young people in foster care often experience being mistrusted by adults. Believe it or not, sharing your own personal world — like introductions to kids or pets — can signal youth that you trust and appreciate their presence.

I have to say that I never could understand how someone could get up at 5 a.m., eat a home-cooked meal, read and study a section of scripture and then proceed to walk three miles every morning! Watching her every move, I wanted to know what made her so happy. I became her permanent shadow.

My fondest memories are of Lela teaching me the little things about house cleaning and doing laundry and personal hygiene. Lela taught me that sometimes it’s the little things that make the greatest difference in life. “Cover your bases!” she said. “You never know what type of impact you will have on someone!” I had never met someone so eager and so willing to teach me things like that.

Recommendation for CASA volunteers: Learning life skills in an unscripted environment is a rare experience for foster youth. My advice is to go off the cuff. Asking youth to let you help them with their laundry on a rainy day can provide quality bonding time.

When I came into foster care for the second time, Lela persistently invited me to go to church. Every time the chance arose, she included me. Having someone care so much and knowing that this person would always be there was something I had never experienced. She connected with my foster parents so that she could continue to be a part of my life.

Recommendation for CASA volunteers: Many times youth in or entering the foster care system find themselves lost and confused about who they are—really who everyone wants them to be. Encourage youth to define who they are and who they want to become.

Try to broaden the young person’s horizons. Celebrate their victories and even their failures. There is a positive in every negative, and sometimes it takes someone like a CASA volunteer to point it out. The only limitations you have to making a connection are the ones you place on yourself.

For my 16th birthday, Lela handmade a quilt for me and stitched on the back of it “To: Shady, From: Momma Lela.” Giving it to me, she said, “It is OK to have more than one mom!” Her encouragement allowed me to find a forever family that same year.

Recommendation for CASA volunteers: Even after young people find permanence, they can often struggle with their “new life.” An advocate has the ability to aid and lighten this struggle. Support during this difficult transition is vital. Encourage the youth to be open and receptive to their new family. Work closely together and support what you both see as their best interest. Encourage them to define the bigger picture.

Overcoming sibling separation, transition, psychotropic medication, depression and a negative perception of who I thought I was can only be described as my second step to personal success. Lela’s belief in me allowed me to believe in myself. As a result, I now have webs of support at the ready when life gets tough.

My story is just one example of how a positive mentor can make a big difference. Personally, I would like to thank all CASA volunteers and supporters. Your dedication has already changed lives for the better. I challenge you to self-reflect every day. Everything we say and do is being recorded by the eyes of a child. What type of impact do you make? 

FosterClub 2010 All-Star Shaden Jedlicka, 21, was in and out of care from age 10. His quest for permanence ended in 2008 when he met his permanent family. Jedlicka is currently attending the University of Arkansas Fort Smith and is working part time in the Dean’s Office in the College of Education. He feels that his experiences, both good and bad, have enabled him to help change the foster care system—not only for youth all across the nation but for his four brothers and three sisters as well. Jedlicka plans to earn a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education.


The US Department of Justice has supported CASA advocacy since 1985 through its Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
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