TOM BEHL: AUGUST WILLIAMSON COUNTY CASA ADVOCATE SPOTLIGHT
Tom Behl spent his career in service. After high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps, followed by four years of college and a stint in the U.S. Border Patrol. He then began a 20-year career with the U.S. Secret Service. So when he retired, Tom couldn’t just sit still. The active itch led him to volunteering—but this time, the service work looked after a different kind of demographic than he was used to protecting.
For the past 16 years Tom has volunteered as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA), first in Arizona and now in Williamson County. He’s carried more than 70 cases, and formed relationships with even more children than that. But when you talk to him about it, Tom seems to be more thankful for the experiences than burdened by it.
“I’ve spent many years with CASA, and I can say it’s all been worth it,” he said. “CASA is my first love and all other volunteer work seems to pale in comparison.”
When Tom and his wife first entered retirement age, the pair both spent time with various non-profits: he preferred to work with children, and his wife gravitated towards organizations associated with the elderly. They also volunteered together at Habitat for Humanity for 13 years.
Tom says what specifically attracted him to CASA, and eventually led him to focus all his energy there, was the work’s direct impact.
“You get to see the immediate impact when you get the results of these cases,” he said. “I think what has motivated me through this work is this: I believe if you’re really going to help children, you have to do it when they are young. And that’s why I think these kind of programs are so useful.”
Tom and his wife, who met in second grade and have been married for 55 years, have four children, five grandchildren, three step-grandchildren and one great-grandchild. He says his own family life has been another motivating factor for his CASA involvement.
“You see children that they are born into a certain situation, through no fault of their own, that the chances of success are far from certain. Yet other children are born into different circumstances which offer a greater chance for success,” he said. “It seems like some kids have two strikes against them, the day they are born.”
Tom doesn’t sugarcoat the fact that many of the involved families are housing less-than-ideal situations; however, he also says that the organization does a good job of allowing CASAs to select cases appropriate to the volunteer.
“With CASA you have to be prepared for very tough situations, and you must be able to face reality. But we get to pick our cases. You don’t have to take every one that comes along,” he said. “My biggest piece of advice for volunteers is this: don’t let cases that end differently than you would like to see bother you, you can’t become discouraged. You are making a difference.”
The rewarding part, he says, are the positive outcomes.
“The really uplifting component comes when a family is reunited or when I attend an adoption ceremony. When you attend a ceremony and that child is now going in the right direction… it is very rewarding.”
Though he’s already devoted 16 years to the cause, Tom says he doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon. And before he bows out of the volunteer work, he’d like to see one thing happen within the organization:
“You know, I’d like to see more men volunteering as a CASA. We need them,” he said. “I’d like to continue doing this as long as I can.”