The approximately 4,800 miles that separate Sofia, Bulgaria, from Wayne, New Jersey is just a portion of the journey that our October 2018 Volunteer of the Month, Desi Stefanova, traveled on her way to becoming a CASA. Talk to Desi and she’ll tell you about leaving Bulgaria when she was 21 to pursue a work exchange program in Michigan. Then she lived in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, followed by law school, jobs, and more travel. It is easy to imagine that Desi has seen and experienced life in more places than most people do in a lifetime.
Thankfully for CASA and the children Desi would eventually serve, life settled down a little for her when she moved to New Jersey. She had first learned about CASA’s volunteer program during her time working as a family court clerk, and decided the time was right to give back. As she recalls her early years in the United States, she remembers “knowing what it means to be alone and afraid.” Her hope was to help others avoid a similar fate.
Initially Desi was concerned that not having grown up in the United States would impact her ability to be an effective CASA volunteer. She remembers being concerned about the differences between the school system she knew in Bulgaria and the ones she would need to navigate here. Looking back, these differences were easy to overcome. Desi credits the “amazing support” she has received from her Case Supervisors in confronting these (and other) hurdles. Over the past 16 months she has taken on four cases, and has served as advocate for a total of five children.
Having lived in many different places gives Desi a unique perspective on the forces impacting the children and families on her cases. In particular, she’s keenly aware of how poverty is often at the root of so many problems and how difficult it can be to escape its long-term effects. She strives to not see things as black or white, and instead to appreciate all the circumstances that can factor into her cases.
Indeed, Case Supervisor, Michelle Schaefer cited Desi’s ability to skillfully navigate sensitive situations and challenging individuals with patience and sensitivity, taking into account different perspectives and cultures. "Desi is a role model among CASA volunteers, and her professionalism, sensitivity, and diligence have made her a strong advocate for each of her children. We are lucky to have her!"
Desi’s devotion to the children on her cases is apparent. She lights up when talking about the children she’s gotten to know as an advocate. For someone who has traveled so much and had so many homes, clearly her joy comes from helping children find theirs.