Matthew Perkins: Valuing the Things That Money Cannot Buy

2009 Awards of Excellence honorees
Some might think I've had a rough life. But that is not the case. I have been tremendously blessed.

I like to tell people that I became a CASA volunteer because the Richland County CASA Program’s executive director—who also happens to be my neighbor—wouldn’t take no for an answer. It felt like every day she was asking me when I was going to train to be a CASA volunteer. I say that I became a volunteer to get her off my back. But that’s not the real reason.

I became a CASA volunteer eight years ago because I know firsthand the difference a strong adult can make in a young person’s life. My mother raised three boys by herself. She was a disciplinarian. When I was growing up one of the worst things I could do was to upset my mom. Let’s just say that the things my mom did parents can’t do anymore.

I ended up being the man of the house at an early age. The expectation was for me to help provide. As a child I was always working—picking tobacco, picking cotton. If a truck came by wanting field workers, my mom put me on it. At the time, it made me angry. I felt like I shouldn’t have to go work in the fields, I should be playing with the other kids. But it also made me appreciate the things I did have—and the people who have looked out for me in life.

One of those people was Aaron Davis. I met Aaron the same year I bought my first car: 1978. The car I bought was the worst one on the lot. Suddenly I had a monthly car payment—and a monthly repair bill.

Aaron was about 25 years older than me. He was a great mechanic and one of the kindest people I’ve ever known. Aaron knew that I didn’t have any money. So rather than taking what little I could offer him, Aaron showed me how to fix my own car. It was one of many things I learned from Aaron, and the beginning of a lifelong friendship.

When I got married, Aaron and his wife stood in for my parents. And when Aaron recently celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary, a few of us who Aaron helped over the years hosted a party they’ll never forget. It was the least I could do. We could never repay him for looking out for us. There are some things that money just can’t buy.

I became a CASA volunteer because I know that there are a lot of children growing up like I did, who need guidance, support, someone to take an interest in them. Children need to see somebody be successful—somebody who looks like them and sounds like them. African American boys especially. Our boys don’t see that a lot of times, and the situation they are in becomes the norm.

In the last eight years I’ve worked with close to 100 foster kids—along with some amazing social workers, foster parents and family members. I’ve watched boys grow up to amazing young men, heading off to college, to the military, to lead the rich lives they deserve. I feel lucky to have been part of the “village” of people who supported their success.

Some might think I’ve had a rough life. But that is not the case. I have been tremendously blessed.

Matthew Perkins is a volunteer with the Richland County CASA Program in Columbia, SC. He is one of the founding members of the “CASA Quarterbacks,” a group of men who actively recruit African American men to advocate for abused and neglected children as CASA volunteers. Matthew was recently recognized for his service by being inducted into the Richland County CASA Quarterback’s new “Hall of Fame.”

 

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