Our Stories

To Share Humanity

It can be difficult to find a niche where you can feel comfortable, supported, and inspired. It can be even more difficult to find that when you are moving into an entirely new and unfamiliar environment. However, when you do find it, it can be a defining moment in your life. I experienced this moment when I enrolled in a sociology class that opened the door to community service-learning and all the programs that are an affiliate. I began volunteering at a local juvenile detention facility where I was able to reach through a closed door to be a supportive role model for the youth. I began to question the system they were in and if it is doing the “justice” that we all anticipate. Then I found all the others who had their hands reaching out through that closed door – for the youth at juvenile hall, for the kids at our local elementary schools, for the migrant workers, for the disabled, for the homeless. Those people were all of the friends and mentors I have now made at the Center for Awareness, Service, and Action (CASA). The men and women that make up our office are the most incredible, selfless, genuine people I have ever met and to be able to share even the same desk with them is an honor. Each person strives for connection, empathy, and kinship. Each person strives for peace and humility. CASA is the foundation for all the brilliant people that believe that every human being is in this world together and that we can all make a difference and impact as a collaborative. How you might ask? – Through service. But that’s not it – It’s more than that. “Service is the hallway that leads to the ballroom, but get to the ballroom because that’s kinship.” – Father Greg Boyle. CASA inhabits this purpose and has been for 25 years. I am very honored to say that I am a part of this wonderful environment and that I have found my niche. Here’s to many more meaningful years!

-Rhea Webb ‘12

By: Maddy Blake
I started working at the CASA office during my sophomore year of college and today, they just can’t get rid of me! I began as a work-study office assistant and worked about ten hours per week; I still work those ten hours, but now I spend as much time in this office as possible. I love the people here, I love the conversations we have, and I love the causes that we work for. Not only do we focus on community service involvement, we work towards establishing relationships with other people and developing ourselves as individuals. Some of my favorite moments in my college career arose because of the diverse conversations I’ve had with my co-workers. This is such an open, welcoming and positive office that supports every individual that walks through the door. I couldn’t be more proud to work here and I couldn’t be more excited to celebrate our 25th anniversary!

My name is Megan Wilhelms and I have been working at CASA since my freshman year at USD. It was by recommendation from a high school teacher that I actually ended up coming into the CASA office looking to get involved. After this introduction to the office, I was almost immediately able to start as a volunteer at Pro Kids. Pro Kids is a non-profit organization in City Heights that is a golf and learningfacility that opens itself up to the children in the community to learn life skills through the game of golf. In addition to taking golf classes, the kids have access to the learning center upstairs in the facility where they can get help with homework and have access to computers and games.

For the past 3 years, I have helped out in the learning center where we help the kids with their homework, read with them, and sometimes play golf or games with them. I can truly say this has by far been one of the most rewarding experiences of my college career. I feel that my experiences at Pro Kids allowed me the opportunity to learn and grow from avery diverse group of individuals. I have experienced so much personal growth from my volunteer opportunities through CASA. Although I have loved and learned a lot from my classes in the past couple years, I have been very thankful to have many hands on experiences outside of the classroom. Most of the opportunities that have been presented to me have been through CASA.

My sophomore year I was able to be a participant in the first New Orleans Service Immersion Trip. I took a leadership course prior to the trip to learn about the New Orleans culture and history of HurricaneKatrina. The week I spent in New Orleans is one I will never forget. I was able to help with rebuilding efforts and be in community with so many New Orleans residents. I was blessed with the opportunity to return last year as a Student Leader on the trip. This trip provided me with new service opportunities in a local Children’s Defense Club School and so many other wonderful moments.

Overall, I have loved being a part of CASA for my college career. It has helped me realize my passion for service and workingwith children. Looking back on the past couple years here at USD, I can’t picture having loved it here without being a part of this office. This year I am a Co-Director for Direct Service and am so excited to be a part of each andevery program that our office has to offer to the USD community. My opportunities and experiences as a member of the CASA family have shaped meinto the person I am today. Most of the valuable lessons I have learned about life and service have been because of this wonderful place.

If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us walk together...”

-       Lila Watson, Australian aboriginal woman

I am often asked to name the most life changing experience I have had to this date. The answer always comes naturally; I took a year off after high school to volunteer at a Mission in an Indigenous Community in Mexico. Never in my life had I faced such a combination of culture shock and isolation from mainstream society. Being immersed in such a different lifestyle and life vision resulted in genuine happiness that I can only attribute to the relationships I built. Above any other experience, that year defined who I am and who I want to become.

My name is Maria Silva and I consider myself a serve-aholic. Throughout my life I have been granted opportunities to immerse myself in numerous community projects and make connections with people from similar as well as different backgrounds than me. There is nothing I find more rewarding than this, and for the past three years CASA has been the engine behind it.

I came to USD with a service-oriented heart and found the perfect place to nourish it. CASA has become the casa for my love driven passion for service and relationship building. This is my fourth year as Site Coordinator for Migrant Outreach, a Program directed to migrants from my home country; some of the bravest, most compassionate, and loyal friends I’ve ever met.

Besides Migrant Outreach I have volunteered at Bayside Kids Community Center and Chesterton Elementary School. I have been on Service Trips to Tijuana and an Immersion Trip to El Salvador. I look forward to going to Jamaica and New Orleans on service immersion trips next spring. These experiences have shaped who I am and given meaning to every Sociology, Peace and Justice, and International Relations lecture I’ve heard throughout my career at USD.

My experience at CASA is common for every student who decides to take the time to get involved in our Programs. Come meet us and learn more about how you can have a life changing experience like the ones our team have had. You won’t regret it!

“CSL means building community” -- Phi Nguyen

Mural outside of the Linda Vista Library

 "Working for CSL as a Linda Vista Elementary tutor has been the best fulfilling job I have ever had because I’ve had the opportunity to engage with the outside community and connect with kids who just want to be appreciated. Through my involvement with CSL/CASA I have found my passion, which is to promote social justice through service and relationships. I have found role models among Brenna, Chris, and John, who truly live out the mission of CSL/CASA and USD. I know I can always go into the office and find various ways to get involved, as well as, amazing people who also desire to see social change. CSL and CASA are amazing!" – Corina Lopez-Ramos, USD 2012

25 Years of Changemaking - What CASA/CSL Means to You 
by Alyssa Black

The summer leading up to my freshman year at USD, I received an unexpected call from the Student Director of what was then called America Reads/America Counts. “Are you still interested in joining this community service-learning program under your work-study award?” “Oh wow. I had no idea I’d be getting a phone call this summer. Absolutely, yes!”
Little did I know how drastically that simple affirmation would change my entire college experience.
For the past two years I have worked at Linda Vista Elementary through this work-study program, now called Youth to College. I have worked with students all along the social and economic spectrum. I have worked with students with autism and ADHD. I have worked with some students that hated school, some who loved school, and some who thought it their refuge. After some time, I finally realized that every student has one thing in common with all the others - spirit. Their eyes would light up with a bright idea, a story they were telling, or information that just went “click!” It was this incredible spirit for life that allowed me to see that it wasn’t just me teaching them; they were teaching me just as much. They tested my patience and understanding (I passed), reinvented my meaning of community involvement, and forced me to appreciate the small things in life. I have learned that working in the community is not just about helping, but about building. It is about building those relationships that you never expected to have and working together for something better. I don’t think I would have ever realized this without those kids. Very few want to simply be told how to fix something and left to their own devices. When we did activities together, we all felt much more enjoyment and success.
As my involvement in the CASA office has grown, I have grasped the fact that this can be applied to anything that CASA is involved it. The work done here is not just to place people in a situation to “help the needy.” Instead, everything here is aimed at building a better community where diversity doesn’t alienate anyone, but gives us all more reason to work together to fight problems that affect us all and make positive changes that lead to more peace and unity.
I truly believe that without CASA, my USD experience would have been without a purpose. I would have gone to class and gone home, with some trips to the beach thrown in there, of course. I would never have built the ties I have built, and I would never seen the beautiful Linda Vista community right up the street from our campus. These experiences have shaped my eyes for the future and made every day feel like it matters. Simple things like my daily interactions are more positive and friendly, and I am much more willing to be a part of a whole, rather than place myself in a hole made only for one, which I have admittedly done before. There is so much out there for us to be part of, and I’m glad I’ve been given the chance to see that. And, as the new Student Director of Youth to College, I can only hope that I can help someone else find the purpose I did. I am convinced that together we can make the world better, step by courageous step.
So, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” – Mary Oliver
I know my answer. Do you know yours?

By Celina Gonzales

Hi, my name is Celina Gonzalez and I am a senior at USD. I have been fortunate enough to be adopted into the USD CASA/CSL family for the past three years. Without the support and the investment CASA has in their students to promote their personal growth while serving the community, I would not be standing where I am right now. Constantly searching for ways to do more, to work in the community, and advocate for equality in education, CASA has supported me throughout my college journey.
Mahatma Ghandi stated, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” CASA/CSL has nurtured my growth through self-improvement via exploration to find purpose in what I do and a connection to the world. Participating in a community of advocacy, communication, and action through service has provided me a new understanding of service, how I may contribute to a greater cause, but also how to receive.
Tutoring students and collaborating to develop curriculum for the Linda Vista Bayside Community Center Academic Club at Carson Elementary allows students to be exposed to and have access to a quality education. I am looking forward to working alongside community partners and CASA members to provide support for high school students and parents while educating them about post high school options through a newly developing program at Bayside Community Center. The new program is called Mission: Possible. Finally, I am ecstatic to participate in the NOLA leadership and immersion trip this year! I have never traveled to New Orleans or participated in a community immersion trip and I cannot wait for all the adventures to come working alongside genuine and good-hearted fellow CASA members and the New Orleans community.
In telling you my experiences with the CASA/CSL family I invite you to be a part of this wonderful family. Please join us in learning more about yourself as well as supporting an awesome community.