One of my favorite Christmas gifts this year took root in May of 2009, and was delivered this week as a phone call from a friend. That spring a couple years ago, Tia Ramlow, President of GreatWork Employment Services, set some priorities as part of the closing retreat with Class 25. Earlier in the program, she noticed the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program as part of shadowing a Children Services worker. CASA volunteers speak up for the child in foster care situations by making recommendations regarding the child's best interest. They often add to this role and supplement Children Services, identifying resources or acting as an intermediary between the family and the courts to serve the children. As a board member at the time with Battered Women’s Shelter, CASA’s mission of advocacy for victims appealed to Tia. At the closing retreat, Tia settled on CASA service as one of her foremost interests for community involvement.
Over the following months, Tia gradually cleared her plate to make room for the intensive CASA training amidst the demands of raising a family and running a company. The training runs four hours a week for ten weeks, amounting to as much time as one might spend in a year on a typical nonprofit board. By Fall, 2010, Tia completed the certification; in early 2011, she received her first case.
After following the family for a number of months—court appearances, checking in on the home, advocating for the child—she saw the family reunited as the holidays drew near. As they faced many obstacles, some of the most basic needs were unfilled, including a bed for one of the children. Enter Class 25. Tia e-mailed her classmates, explaining the need. Some referred her to CORE Furniture Bank; Sean Fremon, ombudsman extraordinaire for the homeless, stepped up to help. Rochelle Fisher at Habitat for Humanity responded too. Tia found her way to the ReStore, Rochelle volunteering a bed to help this family in need. And who knows, the kids may also receive some of the 200 or so toys that Leadership Akron alumni at this year's holiday party for the Toy Room at Children Services.
It’s hard to say what the future will hold for the family that crossed paths with Tia and, by extension, with our alumni family. There may well be setbacks ahead in the long, rough road of turning lives around, breaking cycles. But this year, they will have their family together and a warm bed to sleep in, simple things that mean everything if you’ve been going without them. We're grateful to Tia and her classmates connecting with the core aspects of our work to become part of this family's story: leaders discovering a passion, clarifying direction, and drawing on one another to strengthen community. Beyond Tia and her classmates’ gift to this family, this story is a gift to all who bring their involvement or support to the work of Leadership Akron.
All the best for a joyous holiday season!