Saturday, December 7, 2013
By Craig Crosby email@example.com
Danylle Carson hasn’t seen the woman in more than 20 years. Much of the relatively brief time the two spent together has faded from memory, and Carson can’t even remember the woman’s name.
Danyelle Carson in her home office on Thursday in Leeds.
Staff photo by Joe Phelan
But what Carson does remember — the woman’s commanding presence, her genuine caring, and her words of encouragement — were like a feast to a starving child. They not only gave birth to Carson’s dream, but provided the fuel she would need to spend decades pursuing it.
“In this short period of time she was in my life she made a huge impact,” Carson said. “She taught me you’re more than the hand that’s given to you.”
The woman, a guardian ad litem appointed by the court to act as Carson’s advocate when the 7-year-old girl was permanently removed from her mother’s custody, not only inspired Carson to attend law school, but sparked Carson’s passion to one day serve the same role for other children.
Carson, 32, found an outlet for that calling in the Court Appointed Special Advocate program in Maine. CASA volunteers advocate for abused, neglected or abandoned children when the state requests court intervention because their parents are not able to care for them.
“I really want to be for these kids what my guardian ad litem was to me,” Carson said.
Libby McCullum, program manager for CASA Maine, said the program is continually seeking volunteers to serve as the children’s representative. Unlike the parents’ attorneys, or even the state, the singular job of the CASA volunteer is to consider the best interest of the children and make recommendations to the court.
“Their job is to conduct an investigation and then advise the court,” McCullum said. “They call it the eyes and ears of the court.”
Making a difference
CASA volunteers can make a lifetime’s difference in a child’s life, McCullum said.
Carson is the case in point.
“She would say things like, ‘Nothing that’s worth anything has ever been easy,’” Carson said of her guardian ad litem. “I’ve taken that literally in my life. That’s why I’m in my second year of law school.”
Carson and her husband, Jeff, live in an 1800s-era farmhouse off a dirt road in Leeds, where they raise their three children, ages 13, 6 and 2. It’s about 50 miles and a lifetime away from Portland, where Carson was born. That’s also where, as just an 18-month-old-baby, she first went to live with a foster family. Carson returned to her biological mother a few months later, but Carson came into the permanent care of the state when she was 7 and her mother was sentenced to prison.
It was during that court process that Carson met her guardian ad litem.
“I just got swept under the rug by everybody,” Carson said. “I could count on one hand the number of adults that were positive influences in my life. Then she walked into my life. Her biggest goal was to give my voice volume.”
Carson recalls little of the woman other than her impact. She was a lawyer and had a commanding presence, Carson said. Carson decided she wanted to be a lawyer, too. The woman didn’t dismiss the notion as others had. She encouraged the young girl’s dream and told her to pursue it with all her might. At a time when so many expected Carson to absorb more than should ever be expected of a little girl, the guardian was content to give Carson room to be a child, sometimes quiet and sometimes chatty.
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