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Community Highlights: Meet Gerard Bodell of CASA Minnesota

Today we’d like to introduce you to Gerard Bodell.

Hi Gerard, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
Following a career in business, which included the last 25 years at Target Corporation, I knew I wanted to give back to the community in a deeper and more meaningful way than I had been able to while working. Target was an awesome career for me, and I benefited from the founders, the Dayton family, having instilled a culture of community involvement. After leaving Target, I chose to pursue becoming a volunteer Guardian ad Litem, advocating for children in need of child protective services. I learned about the program from a friend who was a volunteer. I see these children as the most vulnerable part of our community, and I see this role as having the greatest direct impact that I can offer with my time.

While being a volunteer and based upon both the work I had done and the relationships I had built, I was asked to take on an additional role as President of Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Minnesota. CASA Minnesota is a nonprofit which supports the many volunteers involved in the program.

As volunteers, we work alongside state employees, receiving the same screening, training, and performance expectations. We are a voice for the child through the legal process and recommend to the court what we think is in the best interest of the child. Every child under protective services is appointed a Guardian ad Litem based upon federal and state laws.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
We have had volunteer Guardians ad Litem in the state of Minnesota for 40 years! Currently however, the state of Minnesota is allowing the volunteer program to phase out through attrition. Our current volunteers, supporters in the community, other nonprofits, certain legislators, and myself have been working tirelessly to create awareness and influence a change. We gained the support of State Rep. Heather Edelson to introduce a Volunteer Bill in the Minnesota House in February 2022 and we received a hearing on the bill in March. We created a tremendous amount of bipartisan awareness and support. I am continuing to build partnerships, prove the value of volunteers, and push this cause forward. Abused and neglected children benefit from more resources and services, not fewer. Volunteers can and do work along state employees effectively and help create community awareness to the issues impacting children and their families. Some volunteers go on to make community wide or systemic changes to child welfare programs. But most importantly, they make one connection at a time and help each child get the services they need and reunite with their family whenever possible.

As you know, we’re big fans of CASA Minnesota. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about the brand?
At CASA Minnesota, I am leading the fight to preserve transparency in the child protection system, sustain and grow diverse volunteers from the community, and ensure the best interest of the child always comes first.

We are not diminishing what the state workers are doing, they have an enormous job. They carry 30 cases, each with 3-4 kids per case. Between visiting kids each month, investigating, writing reports, and appearing in court, there can never be enough resources for these children. Volunteers want to help the children and the state workers at the same time. Volunteers are in this work for personal and passionate reasons. “You are the only person in my life not paid to help me”, those are words we as CASA Volunteer advocates often hear from the children we serve.

Supporting the diverse needs of the community is a need across the entire system. I’m helping in this area by offering the state diverse guardians ad litem. We have a talented volunteer pool including the BIPOC and LGBTQ communities which lets kids see people helping them that are like them.

Can you talk to us a bit about the role of luck?
“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity”. I love this quote. Certainly, good things happen that were never planned. Often this happens because we are ready to take risks and pursue opportunities. I have found that if I’m grounded my values and I have long term goals, I see these opportunities more clearly and I can pursue them with confidence.

So while I didn’t plan on becoming the President of CASA Minnesota, it wasn’t luck, it was an opportunity that presented itself and aligned nicely with my values and goals, so I pursued it with confidence!

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