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One definition of a leap of faith is “An acceptance of or a willingness to do something based largely or entirely on one’s faith that it is correct or it will work, despite having little or no evidence or assurance thereof.” Our Person Behind the Badge this month, CASA Kara Rios is no stranger to leaps of faith!

Growing up in Poteet, Texas with her older and younger brother, Kara and her brothers grew up in a home filled with tension and feelings of being on edge. This environment affected each child differently and for Kara, she found herself pregnant when she was a junior in high school. She knew she had a choice – either drop out of school or buckle down and do what she ended up doing – finished high school in one semester, graduated a year early, welcomed her baby girl, Mia, into the world, moved to Bastrop, signed up for online courses where she obtained, in three years, a Bachelor’s degree in Business with a Major in Accounting, and finally, full-time employment. The latter didn’t come easy at first. She had many interviews, but she was either over or under qualified for the positions she pursued. But finally, she found the right fit at First National Bank where she also found the love of her life, Michael. You see, Kara was one of the drive-through tellers, and Michael was one of the frequent drive-throughers! Their conversation and flirting led to him bringing her flowers, asking her out on a date, moving in together and eventually getting married. They have been married now 5 years, and how that came about is the first of Kara’s many backstories that could have been written for a Christian movie. It’s a beautiful story between these two faithful people.

Realizing she was spending a lot of time away from home and her daughter working at the bank six days a week, Kara took a job working Monday through Friday at a bookkeeping office. The decision to change jobs didn’t come easy for Kara. She struggled mainly because they were doing well financially and she admits it was nice to have some play money. Kara will tell you that God spoke to her many times telling her to quit her job, but it took a couple of months before she really understood the message about her new purpose for her life – working with women and children.

So one day, she decided she was going to check out the Women’s Shelter but as divine intervention would have it, she missed the exit and found herself instead at the CASA office. She pulled in, got out of her car, knocked on the door, and when Executive Director, Kristi Glasper opened the door and asked her, “how can I help you?” Kara responded, “I don’t know, God told me to come here!” She visited with Kristi, filled out an application and didn’t hear anything until one day, out of the blue, she got a phone call from the new CASA Volunteer Recruiter/ Trainer asking if she was still interested in becoming a CASA. Timing wise, she had just started her online Master’s program and she was in deep prayer about whether she should take on another disciple as discipleship season in church was about to begin. And too add to that, not knowing exactly what it meant at the time, she heard that voice telling her, “too busy.”

Kara decided to take the CASA Volunteer training and in November of 2017 was sworn in as a CASA. But it was a busy time for her, doing CASA, school work and a move while Mia was in middle school. She talked to Michael and prayed about the stress she was experiencing (that voice again saying, “I told you, you will be busy.”) Struggling with the decision on whether to continue with school, her faithful husband asked her, “did you ask God to go back to school, or was it your decision?” So being the faithful servant that she is, she prayed, read the Bible and soon her path became clear – “you have a gift and you must use it to the fullest.”

She figured out that it was best to go where God had put her – with the kids – and not where she had put herself – at school. She is now working at a Preschool which she loves and was especially pleased when her employer was supportive of her work and time commitment with CASA. So now, Kara keeps herself “busy” through her CASA work, working part-time at the Preschool, and doing part-time styling for Stitch Fix. She is doing exactly what was placed on her heart – working with women and children.

When she is not busy doing things for others, she likes to collect craft supplies (with the intention of doing them, she says with a chuckle), quilt, cross stitch, crochet, and a new found interest in painting with watercolors. Some day she may even go to cosmetology school, as she loves to do nails (and work with women, right?). And this writer knows she loves to eat!

Kara’s most meaningful CASA experience occurred when her first case went to trial. She shares she knew in her heart what was best for her CASA child and where the child needed to be. She admits it scared her that she was not able to make the decision, only a recommendation, and that it was up to the Judge. Thoughts ran through her head – what if the decision wasn’t her desired choice, what if she didn’t agree with the decision, would she be capable to articulate the best interest of the child to the Judge? She admits the day before court, she cried with worry – concerned about this child’s future, a possible different outcome. Again, faithful husband told her to pray, ask for discernment, be still, and let God speak to you.

Needless to say, the outcome of the case was in the best interest of the child and the outcome Kara desired. She realized that the time she invested in her CASA child and the case – doing monthly visits and observing parent/child visitations held a lot of weight. She felt good about the time she poured into the case, doing it right, because it resulted in the best outcome for her CASA child. Kara stated testifying at the trial was easier than she thought because she knew she was prepared and spoke the truth based on what she observed and learned from the time she invested in the case.

Tina Smith, CASA Coach-Supervisor had the pleasure of working with Kara on her first case and states, “Kara is dedicated. She jumped right in and went forth as a strong solid advocate. Within a week, she had an appointment set with the Attorney Ad Litem, CPS Caseworker and caregivers. She learned the ins and outs of her case in no time. She makes it a point to meet face- to-face with everyone involved in the case. The case went on for a long time – her dedication remained throughout. She was very thoughtful, well-informed and considerate of all her recommendations. She’s never afraid to ask the hard questions or think outside of the box.”

Kara is currently working three cases, although two of them are close to closing. Kara mentions that when people find out she is a CASA she is usually asked, “how can you do that?” and she typically responds “how can you not?” Being able to speak up for kids that may not have a voice, being that neutral party that helps determine what’s in their best interest, is so important. She recognizes that in every case she has worked on there has been an underlying reason with the parents – substance abuse, trauma, mental illness, domestic violence – and understands that we are not here to villainize them – we are here to give them the opportunity to do better so that the kids can have the best lives they can with their family.

Beyond being an awesome CASA, Tina states (and we all agree) that, “Kara is a bright shinny light of a woman. She’s incredibly friendly and always has a warm hug ready to give. Kara is the kind of woman that lights up the room whenever she enters and I have no doubt that she brings the same energy to all the CASA kids she works with!”

So Kara is pictured here re-enacting one of her infamous leaps of faith, as this is where it all began, when she and Michael were married, with Mia by their side, on the Bastrop Old Iron Bridge. And although the Diet Pepper in her hand is an inside joke between this family of three, truth be told, Dr. Pepper is the drink that gets Kara up and running. Her daughter claims that without it she tends to get cranky and hubby secretly tends to agree! We are thankful that this woman of faith missed her exit that one day, took that leap of faith to embrace her gifts and passion, and never looked back!