Kalie with her son and husband.

Kalie Bach is a Woman of Action. She joined the National Guard when she was 17. At age 21, she became a non-commissioned officer of the Active Guard Reserve (AGR), an active duty member of the National Guard in Wisconsin. After being promoted to staff sergeant at age 24, 

Kalie now works full time for the Guard, managing logistics, including army equipment, transportation, food, uniforms, and other needs of soldiers. In addition to being a platoon sergeant, Kalie supervises and mentors 8-12 other soldiers.

In addition to her life as a soldier and her full time job, Kalie was taking 9 college credits and raising a toddler of her own. Her life was full. But when a traumatic event occurred within her extended family two years ago, Kalie felt compelled to work on behalf of abused and neglected children. Once she learned about Kids Matter Inc., she knew she wanted to become a CASA volunteer.

Before even beginning her training, Kalie initiated a six-week donation drive on Facebook to collect children’s clothing and toys for Kids Matter. The Facebook drive generated enough donations to fill a pickup truck! In addition to collecting donations for Kids Matter, Kalie attended the WI statewide CASA Conference in 2018, gaining a sense of the scope of the issues in Wisconsin.

Perhaps it was Kalie’s military training that had her working toward solutions before even beginning her training as a CASA. Perhaps it was her family background or belief in the power of action. In any case, Kalie completed her training at the first available opportunity and was sworn in as a CASA in January 2019.

Not long after, Kalie began working with a teenage girl, “Amaya” who had been living in a group home for nearly 3 years, since the age of 12. Kalie took time to get to know Amaya and learned that her greatest hope was to live with family, especially an aunt who had expressed a willingness to care for her.

This seemed like a hopeful solution, but before it could be pursued, Kalie and the care team needed to help Amaya be safe. For about two years, Amaya had been a frequent runaway from the group home and could often not be located. On a few occasions, when Amaya did return to the home, she was found to have engaged in risky or unsafe practices.

Knowing the risks of human trafficking in Wisconsin, Kalie put a plan into action quickly. She worked with Kids Matter staff to set up interventions for Amaya that included a team of professionals and a safety plan, as well as several one-on-one conversations with Amaya herself. Amaya knew that her hope to live with her aunt depended on her ability to remain safe. She worked to stabilize herself at the group home, working with Kalie and the team of professionals in place.

In the meantime, Kalie was working closely with Amaya’s aunt to learn and understand the process of gaining kinship care. One obstacle was that Amaya’s aunt and uncle lived in a studio apartment where there was not adequate space or privacy for a teenaged girl. Kalie set to work helping Amaya’s aunt search for and secure a larger apartment that worked well for the family. This effort required hours of conversation and problem-solving between Kalie and Amaya’s family.

In addition to the logistics of obtaining kinship care, there was behavioral and emotional preparation the family needed to do. Kalie spent time helping the family prepare for parenting a 15-year-old teen who had experienced trauma and risk.

This summer, Amaya’s aunt did receive full custody of Amaya through the kinship care program. Soon after, Amaya moved in with her aunt and uncle.

How are they doing now? Some logistics still need to be worked out, like transportation to and from school. But according to Kalie, Amaya is not lashing out as much as she had done in the group home. She is happy that she can go outside and do things on her own. She is getting used to her freedom and reports to Kalie that she is “just happy to go outside and not be controlled for every single second.” Kalie notes that without the presence of frequent scolding or judging, Amaya is less rebellious.

One new goal that Amaya has expressed is the desire to earn her own money. Kalie and Amaya have discussed strategies for getting a part-time job. Kalie took Amaya to the library to take a personality assessment to consider the type of job that might be a good fit. Although Amaya has no job experience yet, Kalie helped her to type up a resume based on the skills and strengths she does have. As Amaya embarks on her job search, Kalie will be there to brainstorm solutions to obstacles as they arise.

Finding a stable permanent home for Amaya was the result of strong collaboration between Amaya’s family, her CASA volunteer, Kids Matter staff, and the CPS case manager. But Kalie proved herself to be a true Woman of Action. With the current popularity of superhero movies, it’s impossible to miss the similarities between Kalie and Captain America who says, “I’m with you until the end of the line.”

This article was written by Joan Ruffino, a Kids Matter volunteer and writing instructor at UW-Milwaukee.