March 1, 2023
CASA Volunteer Spotlight: Meet Cristina Blough
Court Appointed Special Advocates are dedicated volunteers that go above and beyond for children in need in our community. They advocate for children to make sure they don’t get lost in an overburdened foster care system, and stay with the child on their case until they reach a safe, permanent home.
Each month, we’re spotlighting the incredible volunteers that make our mission a reality. To learn more about SCAN’s Alexandria/Arlington CASA program and how you can become a volunteer, visit scanva.org/casa.
Cristina, tell us about yourself! Where are you from? Do you have kids? Pets? Tell us about a hobby you’re passionate about…
I’m 33 years old, was born and raised in Northern Virginia, and am a first-generation Hispanic American. My mom is from Cuba, and my dad is from Uruguay. I grew up only speaking Spanish at home, up until I went to school—I remember starting school with a little sign on my shirt that said, “Hi, my name’s Cristina; I don’t speak English.”
What brought you to CASA?
I grew up with a deep love of volunteering. I went to private catholic school my entire life, so volunteering was a big part of my upbringing. I’ve always worked in the nonprofit sector as a fundraiser, but I wanted to do something more hands-on. I talk about the issues and tell stories as part of my job, but I wanted to do more. I’d been thinking about what I wanted to do volunteer-wise, and somebody recommended I look into becoming a CASA.
What year did you become a CASA?
I was sworn in in November 2020 and got my first case that December. I was on that case for almost two years, and then there was a big dip in cases during COVID. July of 2022 was my next assignment.
What is it like being a CASA as a millennial?
It’s funny, I still feel like a kid, and when I’m talking to some of the youth in my cases, I feel close to their life stage. All of my cases have been with teens. It’s an age group I love working with. I can relate to them in a lot of ways.
Being young was a big advantage during the pandemic when all of our visits had to be virtual. I know others who have struggled with having to do this virtually. And while in-person is always best, I’ve been able to flex some of my virtual skills and really connect on video. Yes, video is harder, but I can still remember hour-long conversations with the teen in my case that were authentic. Not just asking questions in the way CASAs sometimes have to, but engaging her and getting her to open up.
I also don’t have children of my own yet. It’s been a little bit of a blessing to become a CASA at the time that I did. Other than my dog and my job, I don’t have any hardcore things tying me down to my home or a specific schedule. The flexibility of going to visits or checking in with providers at odd hours has been huge.
How does being bilingual help you be a CASA?
In most cases, the kids always are bilingual. In my first case, I remember the teen living in a foster home. When she wanted privacy from the other foster children in the home, but still wanted to be out in the open talking to me, she would revert to Spanish. It helped us build trust. I remember the day she found out I spoke Spanish. She took a call with her mom, and when she came back, I asked her something in Spanish, and her eyes lit up immediately. I was having a hard time getting her to open up to me because of all of the trauma in her past. Being able to share a language helped build that bond.
More than anything though, it’s been a huge help connecting with the biological parents in my cases. Sharing a language has really helped in earning their trust. It’s a connection point. It allows me to start to bridge the gap many parents in that situation feel, particularly if they don’t understand all the facets of the system they are now part of.
What are you most proud of as a CASA?
I am most proud of the days that I get a child to interact with me meaningfully. So many people are coming in—asking them questions, bugging them, and prodding them. And on top of that, they are dealing with trauma. So the days where I get to really connect are the best. I think my biggest thing is that I want them to feel safe sharing with me whatever they might want to share in that moment.
What’s your favorite thing about being a CASA?
My only responsibility is to listen. Just listen and report back what I’m hearing, seeing, and being told, and that’s why I love working with teens so much. I like opening that door for them to tell me what it is they would want the world to know when they don’t have another avenue to do that.
What would you say to someone thinking about volunteering as a CASA?
Do it. You won’t ever regret it. It’s hard and takes a lot of energy in terms of, quite frankly, waking up in the middle of the night thinking about the responsibility that you have. But at the end of the day, when you get that moment where that child opens up to you, it is worth it and then some.