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Helping Hands

Robert Brown: An Unexpected Benefactor of the CASA Mission

Flora Beach Burlingame

Forty-nine-year-old Robert Brown is a generous man. He admits to giving away at least $200,000 to charitable causes—mostly to those benefiting abused and neglected children. He wasn’t born wealthy and doesn’t live in a glamorous house. In fact, most of his giving has been conducted through a bank while he waited out a sentence in a minimum security prison.

CASA of Mariposa County, CA, has been a benefactor of Brown’s giving and in accordance with his wishes makes sure that all of the funds benefit children and their families in ways that the program’s budget could not otherwise afford. Brown’s giving is a direct result of his own harsh childhood and eventual placement in foster care.

Brown was raised in rural Arkansas and Mississippi. His father was an abusive alcoholic, and Brown’s mother died when he was 7. Years later, he had had enough and left home to live with his grandmother. When he learned his father was coming after him, Brown headed off to stay with a sister in California. She turned him in to the authorities, and he was placed in foster care at age 16.

While most foster parents give children needed love and stability, Brown’s story holds a tragic twist. He was initially placed with a priest who proved to be a pedophile. Ironically, it was as a result of this abuse that Brown came into his money. Another teen, sexually abused by the same priest, grew up to become a judge and in 2003 brought a class action lawsuit on behalf of 120 victims. Brown came away with a significant sum.

“I didn’t really want the money,” Brown said. “All I wanted was an apology.” He says he has no bad feelings toward the church and is able to separate his faith from the sins of one man.

When Brown learned of the CASA program and its purpose, it triggered his interest in donating money to the cause. “If those kids need anything that is within my power to get, let me know and it will be done. I know what it’s like to not be wanted, loved or needed,” he wrote in a letter to Mariposa County CASA Executive Director Janet Kottman. He corresponds with her frequently, asking where there might be specific needs and then arranging for the money to be sent. His caring has led to a multitude of gifts for children in the CASA program, focusing on their readiness for school and college.

As an adult, Brown has held a wide variety of jobs, served in the Marine Corps and even worked the rodeo circuit. But he has also been in and out of trouble—worsened by escapism through drug and alcohol use. Consequently, he has served time more than once. He was released from the Mt. Bullion Conservation Camp in July. Brown is enjoying spending time with his son, daughter-in-law and “two adorable granddaughters” while working alongside his son in the automobile towing business.

When talking about his past, Brown keeps coming back to his concern for 18-year-olds who are no longer eligible to be part of the foster care system. “When I ‘aged out,’ I was given nothing to assist me—no money, no social security number, nothing. I was on my own,” he said. “I am a living example of what happens when you don’t keep very close tabs on the people you’re helping.”

Fortunately, older youth in California now receive assistance through independent living programs. Many counties also provide transitional housing, so youth don’t find themselves living on the street the day they turn 18.

Of the generous sharing of his settlement money, Brown simply says, “Remember, I am a former foster kid who had a really fouled-up life. And all I want is to be able to help other foster kids achieve the best that life has to offer.”

Flora Beach Burlingame’s articles have appeared in Women’s World, Sierra Heritage Magazine, the Fresno Bee and other publications. A former foster parent, Burlingame wrote a series of articles for the Mariposa Gazette highlighting Mariposa County’s CASA volunteers. Search for the author’s name at mariposagazette.com

Robert Brown
Robert Brown learning the craft of small engine repair at Mt. Bullion Conservation Camp, where he finished a sentence in July for a theft he insists he did not commit. Photo Credit: Captain Matt Arebalo, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation
 
  
  
 
Robert Brown and Janet Kottman with Smokey the Bear 
Brown and Mariposa County CASA Executive Director Janet Kottman at the camp. Photo Credit: Flora Beach Burlingame
 
  
   
 
Former Foster Youth Mark Ford in fatiques
Mark Ford, a former foster youth who received educational supplies and other support from Brown for being on the honor roll at school. The young man was deployed to Iraq in April 2010.


Comments:
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Anonymous @ 12/30/2010 7:24:03 AM 
If we had more "Mr. Browns" in the world, these kids could take tragic past and turn them into a positive future. He is showing these kids the meaning of forgiveness, and showing these kids that life is not always fair, but in the end, life becomes what we make it out to be. Perseverance, forgiveness, generosity, Mr. Brown has shown these kids all of these traits. God Bless Mr. Brown.

Dana Ray
CASA San Bernardino
Anonymous @ 10/20/2010 2:31:06 PM 
My admiration to you Mr. Brown that in spite of your tragic past, you didn't let it invade your sense of kindness and you've turned your sorrows into a positive situation for other children who are going through the same type of life as you had. You are a shining example of what a true Christian should behave as. I think that you would make a wonderful CASA Advocate. And I believe that you are innocent as well. God Bless. Renee
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