Joe Sternberg: Making One Life Better

CASA of McHenry County, IL
Matt, 17 years old

Matt and JoeJoe Sternberg was not the first person to ask 15-year-old Matt questions about his life and family. But it did not take Matt long to realize that Joe was different from the others. He was someone who genuinely cared, didn’t judge him and planned to stick around for the long haul.

Before signing on as a CASA volunteer, Joe had donated his time to many different causes. But he’d always felt that he was simply putting a Band-Aid on a larger problem. This time, he was looking for work that would enable him to make a lasting difference in the life of a child. When they met, Matt was living with his father and his mother, who was suffering from acute alcoholism. Matt was removed from his parent’s home and temporarily placed in the care of his grandmother in a community 33 miles away, isolated from his friends. Three months later, his mother died.

Joe listened.

Joe met with Matt’s teachers and principals. He met with child welfare workers. He got to know Matt’s father, who was genuinely trying to make a life for himself and a place for Matt. Joe and Matt spent hours playing Othello and UNO, and talking. Joe heard Matt repeatedly express—and, in turn, helped the judge understand—that it was in Matt’s best interest to be returned to his home, to be close to his friends and to live with his father. Matt’s case was closed in January 2009, when his father gained permanent custody.

How is my life different now?

For Matt, life before and after meeting Joe are incomparable. “I live a normal life,” he says. “I live a life that I am happy with. After spending time talking with Joe, it is easier to talk to other people. I figure, Joe turned out to be great; other people can’t be all that bad. I used to be droopy, but Joe got me to open up and understand who I am. I am one of the charismatic people.”

If Matt could say one thing to Joe, it would be: “Keep doing what you are doing. You helped make my life a whole lot better.”

Hear Joe talk about creating and maintaining a relationship with Matt:


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