It makes me sad to share that Casa, the agency I worked at for over 15 years of my life and was involved with in one form or another since 1997 is going away. The agency itself has been around just shy of 50 years serving Maricopa County and when Executive Director Stephanie Orr passed away two weeks ago, the writing was on the wall for the non-profit.
We met on Tuesday afternoon to talk about what comes next. Even though I am not an employee there anymore, I am happy and proud to help however I can. It’s a strange feeling to know that Stephanie is gone and even stranger to know that Casa is leaving my life as well. There were many times that I hoped to be the one who took over when Stephanie decided to retire. Unfortunately, she was never able to make that decision.
I never even considered that she might die, and I figured Casa would never die, as well.
The agency started off as the Center Against Sexual Assault in 1974. From what I know, a group of ASU students got together and started a hotline for victims of sexual assault to provide resources, a kind ear, and help to the community. Statistically speaking, the prevalence of rape has not changed very much over the years and sexual violence statistics are hard to pin down because so many people never report what has happened to them.
Over the years, Casa grew to add a counseling staff, an advocacy department, and then prevention. By the time I joined the team in 1997, Casa was the Center Against Sexual Abuse and we had expanded services to children and adults who had been sexually abused. My first job there was to go out to schools and do a program called, “Kids Talk” for kindergarten through sixth grade students.
I was about to turn 28 and was living in Ahwatukee with Ryan and Shannon at the time and working for Courtesy Chevrolet in their alarm department. I had not been in an elementary school classroom, other than going to Ryan’s parent/teacher conferences, since 1983.
On my off days from Courtesy, I started shadowing a couple of Casa’s prevention specialists and watching them deliver the program. I worked the evening shift a lot, too, so I was able to go to schools in the mornings and start delivering the program on my own. Depending on the age group, Kids Talk lasted somewhere between about 20 and 45 minutes.
I would introduce myself and Casa and tell the kids I was there to talk about safety rules. I would ask, “Does anyone know a safety rule?” I would get a lot of responses and all the usual stuff, then I would share that I have a very important safety rule about our bodies. This rule was “No one should touch the private parts of your body unless it is to keep you clean or healthy.”
This would get giggles, of course, and a fair number of strange looks, but it got everyone’s attention. From that point, I would talk about how children could keep themselves safe in a way that empowered them instead of scaring them and let them know that there were a lot of adults in their lives they could reach out to for help, including me.
After doing a about a dozen of these classes, I began to feel more confident, and Casa was working me into their rotation on my day’s off and in the mornings when I worked at night. This was between August and October of 1997. Just after my birthday that year, I was offered a full-time role at Casa, and I resigned from Courtesy.
As I look back, I realize that at the time, I had no idea how these programs were funded and if they were sustainable. There were grants and donations and such. I knew that and I knew they paid for my time, but I never thought to question how the work was going to continue. I wish I would have thought about it more. After a year of doing Kids Talks and taking a fair number of disclosures of sexual abuse from children, I jumped at the opportunity to switch to the violence prevention curriculum I had been working on all summer.
We called that STEP UP which stood for Solutions to Everyday Problems and Understanding People. Pretty boss name, really, but as I look back, we really didn’t know how to create curriculum. That was a big undertaking, for sure, and when I got into the classroom to use it, I was pretty lost at first. That would have been the 1998/99 school year and I split my time between to schools in the Clarendon district.
I need to go on a little digression here as I think about those days and what it felt like to be at schools and in the teacher’s lounge, but not part of the actual staff. I used to get the weirdest looks from some of the teachers. In those days, I carried a book with me as my cell phone was a joke. I bought one of the cheapest ones I could find because I was making $21,000 a year for my salary and had a new family. So, I would sit there in the teacher’s lounge on my break reading my book and listening to all the teacher’s conversations about their kids.
Teachers are funny motherfuckers a lot of the time. Sometimes they don’t mean to be, but to an outsider, the shit they would say would be hilarious. Occasionally, they realized they were going too far, especially in front of a stranger, and then they would start asking me who I was and what I was doing there. If I was feeling a little bit mean, I would say, “I’m from the district observing classrooms.”
The look on their faces would be priceless, especially if there was a teacher in the lounge who knew what I was really doing there. Most of the time they would be cool when I told them the real reason I was there, but sometimes they clearly thought I was there to just stir up trouble and make more paperwork for them to fill out. Sadly, that was the case a lot of the time. Working for Casa was an eye opener in so many ways, many of which were awful.
I have a lot farther I need to go in telling this story, I know, but 1000 words a day goes fast.
See you tomorrow.
Random picture I found. Rhondi took it when we went to Sedona with the kids one afternoon.
Some heavy and noisy songs.