by Bobbie Crosby
In my search for a volunteer activity, I knew I wanted to make a real difference in people’s lives. Since I was interested in advocacy work, a friend who is a former Family Court judge suggested the Center for Family Representation. CFR’s work with parents at risk of losing their children to foster care really resonated with me, so I went on a tour of Family Court. It was just fascinating. I got excited about advocacy and thought it was really something I could do.
In the fall of 2010, I began my training to become a volunteer Family Advocate—a Bachelor’s level Social Worker who provides direct support and advocacy for parents as part of a CFR team. Working for CFR entails a very steep learning curve. On my first day of training, I thought my head was going to explode! I had no idea that the law was such an integral part of the work and I realized how challenging my job would be.
I learned so much from the CFR lawyers and social workers when we began working on cases together. Even just sitting and listening as they talked to clients was an education in itself! My colleagues were so professional, yet so empathetic at the same time. There was no condescension, just patience and understanding. That was amazing to me.
Living in poverty, as CFR clients do, is incredibly challenging. It takes a while to realize you’re not in a soap opera—you’re dealing with people’s real lives. At first I thought I could be my clients’ best friend. I just wanted to find a way to make their lives easier. My supervisor helped me understand that I couldn’t just deal with what was on the surface level—I had to get to the root of my clients’ problems and find out what was really going on in order to help them.
I developed a lot of patience and learned to accept when things didn’t go smoothly. And when I really got to know clients and learned their stories, I realized how far they’d come and how much I’d helped them. I came to recognize the major contrast between families like mine and the families CFR helps—we can often overcome family crises because we have resources, whereas these parents can’t do that. Problems that all families experience can end up following them forever.
After 18 months of working with CFR, I decided to cut back on volunteering to spend time with my own family. But through my work, I gained a deeper understanding of how difficult disadvantaged families’ lives really are. Now when I read the paper or hear a story about a family in distress, I wonder if it’s one of our clients. I know that by continuing to support CFR as an organization, I can still make a real difference in their lives.