By Rev. Dallas Teague Snider
Photo by Liesa Cole
Imagine there are two angels gazing down at humanity. One is smiling about all the advances technology has brought to our world, and the other is heartbroken that we are still dealing with the same challenges that have existed for ages. Gerri Mazer sees the heartbroken angel’s view through her work with CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), a national organization for abused and neglected children. In fact, as a pre-teen Mazer witnessed first-hand the abuse of a childhood friend, giving her eyes to see the abuse that happens right under our noses and in our everyday gatherings. With that, her childhood dream to become a ballet dancer suddenly changed.
Mazer’s passion to be the answer to the unspoken prayer of abused children became a reality when she worked with the Children’s Protective Service in Houston for more than 15 years. She specialized in family sexual abuse, but when she began to feel burnt out, she would find another role within the agency where she could use her knowledge and still challenge herself.
In 2016, she accepted a position as a case manager/volunteer coordinator with CASA in Jefferson County, Alabama. Although she continues to work with four of the children she has advocated for several years, her new role also allows her to work with the Jefferson County volunteers and share what she has learned through her experience with protective services and as a volunteer. There are currently 49 volunteers and many more needed. So many children need a trusted advocate—they need you!
As this month’s City Lights everyday hero, I asked Mazer a few questions to help us better understand her passion for our most vulnerable.
Q. Tell us what inspired you to be such a powerful voice for abused and neglect children.
A. When I was in middle school in Houston, my mother and I started going to dinner every Wednesday at one of her friend’s cattle ranch. There were always a lot of people there, but my mother’s friend had a daughter two years younger than me. I remember this girl getting yelled at about everything, and when she got in trouble, her father would take her to the back of the house. One night he took her to the back and then forced her back outside with the crowd even though she was sobbing. I saw her the next day at school, and she asked if she could show me something. She had welts from a cattle switch covering her back. Not only had I never seen anything like it, I’d never imagined anything like it. We went to the school nurse together, and I was sent back to my class. My mother told me that Children’s Protective Services came to talk to her, but she refused to say anything to them. Until that happened I had planned on being a ballet dancer but suddenly I knew I wanted to help abused children.
Q. What would you say to anyone that is considering being a volunteer?
A. I think one of the great things about being a CASA volunteer is that you’re not doing it for money or recognition and you’re not limited by the restrictions of a government agency. Being a CASA is a choice you make because you want to support the most vulnerable citizens of our community, and it’s very positive and rewarding.
Q. What advice would you give others about how to think about love first and be the everyday hero they were born to be?
A. Find your passion and then work hard at it! I meet so many people who are unhappy with what they’re doing with their lives, and everyone deserves to find something that fulfills them. Most of us have no choice but to work, yet we can choose the type of work we do. Seek out different options and opportunities. Volunteering is a great way to do that, and you can change your direction when you can. CASA is always looking for people to join us, even if they aren’t able to commit the time to be a volunteer advocate. As a nonprofit, our resources are limited, and we can always use extra manpower around the office, with getting the word out, at events, and much more. There’s an inner peace that can be found in helping others, and you can carry that light to be a change in your community. You may find your greatest joy is something that doesn’t cost you a thing but is priceless to someone else: your time.