News and Information from the National Court Appointed Special Advocate Association

Valarie De La Garza

Valarie De La Garza is the president of De La Garza PR, a general and Latino market communications consultancy based in Los Angeles, CA. A passionate volunteer, De La Garza specializes in implementing communications strategies for nonprofit and public sector organizations.

For More Information

Hispanic Giving and Volunteering: Findings from Independent Sector’s National Survey of Giving and Volunteering, 2001

Recruiting and Supporting Latino Volunteers, B. Hobbs, Extension Specialist, 4-H Youth Development, Oregon State University, 2000

National CASA member programs also have access to materials geared to the Hispanic population, including a bilingual volunteer recruitment brochure, radio public service announcements and the video Unpacking Hope.

6 Tips for Latino Volunteer Recruitment

Above and Beyond

Embajadores para la Causa (Ambassadors for the Cause): Child Advocates Push for More Hispanic Volunteers

By Valarie De La Garza

Leer en español

In nine years as a guardian ad litem volunteer in Miami-Dade County, FL, Rosi Alvarez has handled 12 cases involving 24 children. Those 24 faces she holds in her mind’s eye are what keep her focused on the serious role she plays in these children’s lives. Most of her cases have involved mental illness and substance abuse. As a former volunteer with youth substance abuse programs, she purposely chose to take on cases that dealt with these issues.

“One of the things the GALs have in common is a sense of indignation of the terrible things we know foster care children have gone through,” Alvarez says. “The other characteristic we share is that we are caretakers.”

Alvarez has applied this heady combination of intensity and innate desire to nurture in her role as a GAL advocate inside the courtroom as well as outside of its walls. She conducts interviews with English- and Spanish-language media about the program’s impact on children’s lives. She creates bilingual flyers in which advocates speak from the heart about the need for volunteers. She talks to people at community and city council meetings about how they can get involved. And during last year’s horrendous budget reductions, Alvarez spearheaded a grassroots letter-writing campaign that was instrumental in lowering state budget cuts to the GAL program from 23% to 8%.

“We simply cannot rely on the news media to get the word out about GAL,” Alvarez says. “As advocates, we must become resourceful in spreading the word ourselves.”

Word-of-mouth volunteer recruitment is critical in the growing Hispanic community. Approximately 19% of children in foster care are Latino (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2009), yet only 4% of CASA or GAL volunteers are Hispanic.

The US Census Bureau projects that by 2050 the Hispanic community will grow from almost 47 million currently to 132.8 million—or 30% of the population. Of the 10.4 million Hispanic households in the US, 62% include a child under the age of 18.

“The greatest barrier to achieving our vision for abused and neglected children is lack of awareness of our cause,” says National CASA CEO Michael Piraino. “Research shows fewer than 5% of adults are aware of the CASA cause. Given the growing number of Latinos in the US, the need for awareness—and bilingual advocates—is especially pressing,” he says.

Capturing details is crucial in the process of serving as an advocate, making bilingual volunteers vital in helping to communicate in Spanish with the child and family—even when interpreters are available. In addition, Latino advocates have an understanding of cultural nuances which can be helpful in handling a case.

Sandra Solis, a volunteer with CASA of Los Angeles for seven years, believes the ability to speak Spanish has been essential in helping her communicate with foster family members. She notes that the majority of her cases represent Latino children from Central and South America who share language nuances as well as cultural traditions and beliefs that differ from the dominant majority of Latinos of Mexican origin in Los Angeles. This point demonstrates the need for a diverse Latino volunteer base.

Solis is also a living testament to the power of personal persuasion. In addition to speaking at recruitment rallies at universities and at volunteer orientations, she looks for nontraditional ways to spread the word. Every year, Solis shares her experiences in a Christmas letter to friends and family.

Volunteer Rosi Alvarez of Miami has called upon her own insights into Hispanic culture in her personal efforts to recruit volunteers and raise awareness of the program. In the letters she has created for Hispanic outreach, she uses the notion of family as a touchstone in her pitch for involvement.

This photo of Valarie De La Garza is from National CASA’s 2007 photo gallery, which is available to member programs for use in their communications materials.

“We can best engage Hispanics by getting to their hearts about how a child being in foster care affects the family,” she says.

Many Latinos who use English as their primary language still value organizations that do outreach in Spanish, which demonstrates sincerity in reaching Latinos. Research on Hispanic volunteerism recommends that nonprofit organizations interested in boosting Latino recruitment demonstrate cultural competence as well as long-term commitment to the community. (Learn more from the publications listed at right.)

Solis has experienced how cultural competence comes into play as a Latina advocate. When the children of one of her cases were placed in the system after their mother died, the father’s whereabouts were unknown. Solis discovered that the family was indeed in touch with the father. As an illegal immigrant, he was worried about potential deportation as a result of stepping forward to care for his children.

“They are afraid of government agencies and are misinformed about what can happen to them if they are not legal. We can explain the process in Spanish,” Solis says. “We can help them understand that we are here to help them, not to lay a trap.”

This example illustrates one of the most important aspects of outreach to Latinos—establishing credibility. Hispanics have a long tradition of informal volunteerism and philanthropy such as pitching in to help their families, churches and communities in times of need. Compared to other populations, however, low numbers of Latinos participate in formal volunteerism such as CASA advocacy.

While numerous theories exist on the gap between the heritage of generosity of time and resources in informal vs. formal settings, research indicates that one of the most important ways to attract Hispanics as volunteers is fielding credible messengers. Whether in television ads, online or face-to-face in the community, Latino peers are the best ambassadors for recruitment.

As Rosi Alvarez puts it, “You are the best representative of what you espouse.”

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