Carly with her two nieces Arianna Rose (l) and Bayleigh (r). Carly says, “I LOVE being an aunt to 10 goofy, energetic, life-giving nieces and nephews. They embody the all that is good about this world.”

I was lucky to be able to sit down with Carly Nusser, a Kids Matter CASA volunteer since 2018, to talk about her time with Kids Matter and what volunteering means to her. I quickly realized that Carly approaches her role as a CASA volunteer the same way that she approaches life, with great enthusiasm and genuine concern for her neighbors.

Carly is originally from Illinois but moved to Milwaukee for college and has been an active member of the community ever since. After college Carly worked on political campaigns and at the Milwaukee Public Museum. She currently works in marketing and communications for Johnsonville. Carly has always found great joy in her work, but stresses the importance of finding a good work-life balance; for her, balance means keeping your heart open for new ways to get involved in your community and, most importantly, making the time to do so.

“It’s about being present and making those connections with others. For me, the future is beautiful if I’m surrounded by the people I love and I’m doing something to help the community.”

Carly’s introduction to out-of-home care was through her sister and brother-in-law who fostered and adopted two little girls (pictured above with Carly). Carly decided to get involved with Kids Matter after learning about the CASA program from her friend Alice. Carly and Alice went through CASA training together and even accepted their first case as a team. The two began advocating for a group of very young siblings who were quickly reunited with mom. Carly was thrilled, and ready to help another child. The next CASA youth she was paired with had a completely different situation. Jenna* was seventeen when Carly was assigned to her and would soon be aging out of foster care.

“When I was going through training I never imagined that I’d be assigned to a child that is almost an adult, but it’s been great. Jenna’s great.”

Carly helped connect Jenna with resources and worked closely with her case manager to ensure that Jenna’s questions were being answered. However, Carly believes that the most important thing she did for Jenna was helping her create a vision of her future. Carly says, “In many ways, I was her best friend. She didn’t have any non-professionals in her life that she could really talk to.” So, Carly became her sounding board. The relationship that followed was very special for the both of them. Carly says that Jenna has dreams of attending business school and eventually opening her own salon. Jenna hopes the salon could also serve as a center where young women like her could come to find a safe place and a community of their own.

As Jenna’s eighteenth birthday approached, Carly also began wondering how their relationship would change. After Jenna ages out of foster care, would Carly be allowed to stay in contact with her? Would Carly be able to help her if she needed it?

Carly’s CASA supervisor explained to Carly that the relationship could be whatever she and Jenna want it to be. Now Carly sees her role as that of a guiding hand. She is more than happy to introduce Jenna to people and organizations that could help her, but, as an adult, Jenna has to take the initiative. Carly hopes to continue being a guiding force in Jenna’s adult life as well as a friend when she needs one.

A Brief Q&A with Carly:

What is something that surprised you about being a CASA volunteer?

Carly: “Coming in, I was worried about getting emotionally attached to the kids. What surprised me was that it was not discouraged! That’s what makes a good CASA–being deeply moved by what could or couldn’t happen in your CASA youth’s life. I knew that I wanted to become a stronger strategic thinker so that I can truly do what’s best for the child, but I’ve come to realize that becoming emotionally attached doesn’t mean that your mind is clouded, it just means that you care.”

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your time as a CASA volunteer?

Carly: “I think I put myself in other people’s shoes more than I ever have. Everybody carries their burdens in a different way and it’s important to see the dignity in every person, both within my CASA work and outside.”

Why should others consider becoming a CASA volunteer?

Carly: “I wish I could recommend CASA to every person I meet. What I love about CASA and why I would recommend it is that you can truly be the change you wish to see in the world. That’s really what it means to be involved with Kids Matter. Kids Matter is change in action.”

This article was written by Jelena Stankovic, Marshfield Clinic Volunteer Wisconsin AmeriCorps Member 2019-20.