“We moved a lot and we weren’t in school a lot,” 19-year-old Pamela Butler, a former foster child, says of an early childhood spent moving from the family car to homeless shelters to motels. Her life with her mother was pretty bleak: “I entered my mother’s apartment and went straight to my room. There was a bed with no blankets, a closet overflowing with trash and a dresser against one wall. The carpet was littered with cigarette ashes, and the entire apartment reeked of smoke, waste and mildew. I lay down on the mattress and cried.”
She says her mother would buy educational workbooks on sale at the drug store and, from them, teach her young daughter to read. Pamela relished those workbooks and the journals and notebooks she filled with her thoughts and poems. And although her life would continue to have more years of chaos than calm, Pamela clung to the possibilities in education and to the power of words.
Pat James, Pamela’s CASA volunteer, believes Pamela decided long before she even got to high school that she would find her acceptance and success in academic pursuits. So she gave school everything, even entire nights spent studying. “School was her haven,” says Pat. Her haven from a home she knew she would be better off away from and her one constant through a string of caseworkers, foster homes, attorneys and bad experiences. Her one constant, along with Pat James.
Pat believed her job with Pamela was to bring some hope into bad situations and earn the trust of this young woman who had learned to depend only on herself. She brought to almost every visit with Pamela a story from a newspaper or magazine about a young person who was able to overcome the worst. “I was so fearful that she would become discouraged,” Pat says. The newspaper clippings became a running joke between the two, but Pamela says she has kept every one.
A switch to a strong foster home, the devotion of one passionate CASA volunteer and Pamela’s tenacity put her on a better path toward the end of high school. She has earned a laundry list of scholarships and become a poised and powerful public speaker, taking her insights on the foster care system all the way to the governor.
Pamela was invited to testify to a legislative committee on behalf of the CASA program. At the end of the testimony she said: “To give a child a CASA is to give them a voice. To give them a voice is to give them hope, and to give them hope is to give them the world. I believe that with all my heart.”