GreenLeaves

Volunteer Spotlight - September 2017

Meet Cheryl Kelesoglu of Westfield

'I worry for their future, but that’s motivation
to not let anything slip through cracks!'

Cheryl Kelesoglu has been working with her four CASA youth for just six months, yet she already has difficulty choosing just one gratifying experience: “It’s hard to say. I am very happy I was able to find a teacher to volunteer tutor one of my CASA children over the summer, and then I advocated in court for transportation to the tutor. But I’m not sure if that was more gratifying than the first time the younger boys bounced up and down, waving with big smiles when they saw me. Or, when one of the older boys trusted me enough to confide on a very impactful subject regarding his future. Every time I see any of them, it’s something new!”

Although Cheryl’s background as a coach, teacher and school counselor made volunteering as a child advocate an obvious choice, her background goes beyond that. Cheryl also ran a company that taught technology to preschoolers and kindergarteners and has volunteered extensively, including helping start a non-profit to provide sports programs to inner-city middle-schoolers, and serving as director of philanthropy for the Hoboken Family Alliance and president of the local parent-teacher organization. Right now, though, Cheryl’s busy at home with her son, 14, and daughter, 12, both of whom are avid soccer players. In fact, this summer, soccer brought them to Indiana twice as well as Switzerland and Italy.

Like her own kids, Cheryl played sports growing up. Sharing with CASA her very competitive spirit, Cheryl said, “I always felt embarrassed for getting so angry when we were losing. But I had a basketball coach who made sure I knew my competitiveness was a positive. He turned around my thinking. … What I viewed as weakness was suddenly strength. This coach’s support was a boost to my self-confidence I really needed.” Knowing the impact of a caring adult keeps Cheryl plugging along.

Cheryl’s biggest challenge so far? Day One. She worried she wouldn’t grasp all the complex details so she could effectively advocate for each. But after creating a map of each child’s support system and applying the reporting sections of the CASA court report, Cheryl determined exactly who to talk with to cover the important areas like education, health and social needs. She noted, “Breaking it down into simple steps really got me started. As I got to know each child and people in their support system, the questions to ask and needs of each child became clear. During training, we were asked to find positives in a picture that depicted a household that was not ideal. It helped me look at their placements through a positive lens and was pleasantly surprised to find all the children in safe homes and, at minimum, well cared for. I worry for their future, but that’s motivation to not let anything slip through cracks!”

Cheryl keeps herself on track thanks to her former mentor while a crisis intervention counselor in a public school. Her mentor reminded her they are “the voice of normalcy,” noting the youth’s home lives may not be normal but they could model ‘normal’ reactions and know the children can take that knowledge with them into the future.

Sounds spot-on to us, Cheryl.


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