What first got you interested in TIP?
I’ve worked with kids for a long time because I always felt you can make more difference with kids than adults. I was first introduced to TIP at one of the volunteer appreciation receptions and was really touched by the stories of the volunteers. I’ve worked with other programs and sometimes it takes a whole lot to make a little difference, but story after story was about how this takes so little to make an impact. It also fit for me since as a sitting judge, I can’t do the legal side of TIP, but found I could work with the school-based program.
Of all the children/cases you’ve worked with, is there one that stands out in your memory?
One of my first cases, the child was 8 and so sweet. He was actually chronically tardy, which is a vice I still personally struggle with (laughs), so I understood. But he was so nervous and so was his mother which was touching and as they realized I was there to help, he began to talk and even read to me which was heartwarming. We worked on getting him in some afterschool programs so he could be with more kids his own age and working with the mom on getting him to school on time.
What keeps you inspired to continue taking cases?
The fact TIP brings a volunteer into the picture - not someone who works for the school or court - alone is meaningful. I remember having adults take an interest in me and it meant a lot to me so the personal attention from the volunteer means something. It’s important.
Any final thoughts?
Education is a process that isn’t just school. So I really like that as volunteers we can encourage other things. We’re not just here to say “go to school.” But to encourage kids to tap into their interests and talents; to focus on the future that is uniquely theirs.
What attracted you to TIP?
I heard about it at King & Spalding when I came to work here in the fall of 2006 and by spring 2007 I had attended the training. I have always liked volunteering and had been looking for a way to volunteer with schools. After the training though I frankly was nervous and it took a while for me to take a case (laughs).
What have you seen as most important to do as a volunteer?
I think just be there and listen. During the early intervention meetings that I went to I was surprised how many of the mother’s really just seemed to want someone to talk to. Almost all of the parents I’ve worked with are single moms so they are alone with no partner and really just need some support. My most recent case was unusual because the mom just couldn’t seem to get it together, and then at Christmas, I went to meet them at the skating party and the whole family just lit up. The kids were feeling special and the mom also began to feel less like a “bad mom” and more like she and her kids were successful and valued for their unique gifts. It was powerful to see how just a little kindness and appreciation can alter someone’s perception of themselves and even the situation they might be in. It’s been a great experience for me.
How did you learn about TIP?
I was in Paralegal class and someone from TIP came to speak. I knew in an instant it was for me. I’m a high school dropout. I was married and had had 2 children by 16 and widowed less than ten years later. Raising two kids on my own, I knew the struggles.
I didn’t want someone else to be 50 and getting an associate degree. Going back to school as an adult is hard. It’s much easier to stay put and get finished young. I have always volunteered, but this felt personal.
What hooked you?
My first case was with a young boy. His mother was young too and there was no father in the house. He was very troubled. Very angry. He really reminded me of my sons when they were young and it captured me. That young man is still on his path and I had to face the reality that we can’t save them all but maybe plant that seed. Maybe I said or did some little something that – if it didn’t help today – will revisit him, and help on a tomorrow down the line.
What drew you to TIP?
I came back to Georgia and took the Georgia Bar in 2004. At the time, I was working with the Governor’s Military Affairs Committee and wasn’t really practicing law. I’d been a criminal prosecutor and always enjoyed trial work so I though TIP would be a good way to get back into court in non-threatening way. I took the training and started volunteering in 2005.
What surprised you the most?
The breadth and depth of need in terms of family situations. The kids were generally good kids living in families that were dysfunctional in some way. Lots of single parents with their own problems. In one case I remember well, the mother and father were divorced and my client’s mom and new boyfriend were drug abusers. I went with the school social worker to a meeting at the house and it was just in squalor. It became immediately obvious why the kid wasn’t going to school. Things did turn around eventually, but it took the mom losing custody of her other children to her ex-husband and getting clean.
That sounds pretty overwhelming, what keeps you going?
To see where TIP has made a positive difference. I have had 91 cases over the past eight years and I can truly say that less than 10% of them have been completely unsuccessful. Some aspects may not turn out the way we hope but, in all cases, the kids have used the services provided and made strides that keep me motivated. I also have to say I really enjoy working with the Probation Officers and School Social Workers and of course the TIP staff - the professionals involved really impress me. A lot of those folks get a bad rap, but they are knowledgeable, experienced and very caring.