It’s an unlikely bond forged through the toughest of circumstances.
Lizzy Myers, 14, and Denise Wright, 69, met when Lizzy was just three months old and entering the foster care system. Denise was Lizzy’s newly appointed Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA).
“A CASA’s job is to get to know a child in foster care and advocate for that child wherever they need to advocacy. So in the courtroom or in the community,” said Heather Dion, Executive Director of CASA of Central Oregon.
For the next eight years Denise would be the one constant in Lizzy’s life as she moved in and out of foster care.
“Being a CASA is such a privilege. It’s second only to being a mom and a grandma because you get to really impact families,” Denise said.
“She’s like an advocate for me in a way. That’s what her job is, but she’s also more than that,” Lizzy said.
“I know that when Denise is in somebody’s life, she makes her life better. And so knowing that she has made life better for all of these children, it’s one of the greatest gifts I can imagine that she has given to these children in our community,” Heather said.
There were lots of cases and children along the way, but Lizzy was one in particular who stole Denise’s heart.
“She’s known me longer than anybody else in the world has,” Lizzy said. “She always made sure that I knew that there was somebody there for me, that somebody that really did get me. You know, even though I felt really alone during that time.”
Lizzy had been born with drugs in her system. Her biological parents suffering from addiction and mental health issues. The Oregon Department of Human Services stepped in and Lizzy was put into the foster care system for the next eight years. Denise would be Lizzy’s CASA and the one constant in her life.
“She was my first case,” Denis said. “I was in her life for eight years and I think in that time she definitely lived in six, seven, eight different foster homes. So I was the only person that she constantly saw.”
“It was one of the most special connections I ever had in my life. And it was one of those things that always stayed with me. She’s a part of me. She’s a part of my heart. She’s part of my brain. She’s just so special to me,” Lizzy said.
After a lengthy process lasting multiple years, Lizzy was adopted when she was eight years old.
“Lizzy has become a part of her family and Denise has become a part of ours. And it’s just kind of seamless,” said Heidi Myers, Lizzy’s adopted mom.
“Her parents chose to let me stay in her life,” Denise said.
“The job didn’t end when she got adopted. It was like the relationship just, I think is a forever relationship, which I think is amazing,” Heidi said.
The Myers and Lizzy moved from Bend to Virginia four years ago, but Denise and Lizzy remain close to this day. Just this past summer, Lizzy flew out to Bend to spend a week with Denise.
“She texts me now and it’s amazing. She’s one of my kids. And that’s not the goal of CASA, but if the adoptive parents ever want it, it’s definitely a nice option,” Denise said.
“She really did save my life, honestly, because I don’t know what I would have done without her or like the pain I would have if I didn’t have her to count on,” Lizzy said.
“She has taught me just how to be in the world because she was so broken and she still didn’t give up,” Denise said.
“With every home that I went to, she always made sure to visit me and that foster home so I could always know that I had somebody who knew where I was,” Lizzy said.
Now, after 14 years, Denise is retiring from CASA of Central Oregon, moving to the valley to be closer to her grandkids.
“It’s serious, but it’s also such an amazing privilege. I have zero regrets. I’d do it forever if I could,” Denise said.
She’s got a message for everyone watching.
“You save one child, one child is going to be OK. I mean, how can you say one person isn’t worth the world?” Denise said.
And Lizzy has a message for Denise.
“What she’s done for my heart. You know, it’s just amazing. And I’m so glad that there are other causes out there that can do the same for other kids. And I think that’s so important,” Lizzy said.
If you’re interested in finding out more about CASA or even becoming a CASA volunteer yourself at casaofcentraloregon.org. The next training for CASA volunteers begins the week of January 22nd.