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Advocate Speaks to the Heart

Ashley Rhodes-CourterHer internship, her studies and her own life experiences all came together for Adriana Bink ’20 as she helped bring best-selling author Ashley Rhodes-Courter (left) to campus last semester. 

Bink, who facilitated the visit, heard Rhodes-Courter, who grew up in Florida’s foster-care system, assert her own happy ending – an outcome that might not have ensued without the help of a volunteer guardian. The foster-care advocate (pictured with her son) told her St. Norbert audience that no child should have to spend nearly a decade in foster care, as she herself did.

The author-advocate’s visit aligned with an honors tutorial studying the impact of such guardians, known in Wisconsin as court-appointed special advocates. Her message hit close to home for Bink, an intern with Brown County’s CASA agency. "You can give a child a voice who doesn't have one," says Bink. "This program really makes a difference. If things had taken a drastic turn during the divorce of my parents, I would likely have been entered into foster care. Thankfully, I never neared that point."

Bink, like the tutorial group had read “Three Little Words,” in which Rhodes-Courter relates the nine years she spent in 14 different homes – sometimes with abusive caregivers – before being adopted at age 12. The class was able to meet with the author before her talk.

Rhodes-Courter, now 31, was taken away from her mother at the age of 3, and would never live with her again. She stayed with her first family for one day, and at the next place for four months. She lived with her alcoholic grandfather and his girlfriend for a time, until he was shot in a gunfight. Some of her caretakers were or became felons.

It took her mother some four years to release her parental rights, so that Rhodes-Courter and her younger brother would be eligible for adoption. “But mine is a typical story for a kid in this situation,” she said. Her luck changed when her CASA, Mary Miller, was appointed. “She was an amazing force of nature. To hear this college supports CASA is so wonderful. The key to resiliency is one caring person.”

Bink, a communications major, helped promote the Rhodes-Courter event. “It was amazing to see the turnout,” she says. “Then, to see all the people who made donations and bought books. It’s great to see how genuine people are.”

During their course, Bink and her classmates learned about the history and mission of CASA, the impacts of child abuse and neglect on children, Brown County Child Protection, and early childhood and brain development. Led by Brown County judge Marc Hammer, the students also learned about Juvenile Court and how CASA helps kids navigate the court and foster-care systems.

Rhodes-Courter was impressed to note that Brown County foster kids were among her audience at St. Norbert – indeed sitting in the front row. The teens were on campus as part of another community effort, “From Foster Care to College: Making College Possible,” which brings kids to St. Norbert, Northeast Wisconsin Technical College and the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

March 20, 2018